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Ian Muir photo

USA’s men’s and women’s 7s teams kick off their respective 7s seasons in the coming days in Dubai. It marks the first of three stops where the men’s and women’s competitions intersect this season, with them being bundled together in Sydney in January and Paris in June, as well.

The women kickoff Thursday American time, opening against France at 4:29 a.m., South Africa at 7:24 a.m. and New Zealand at 10:43 a.m., all ET. The men conduct pool play Friday American time, facing Argentina at 12:00 a.m., Samoa at 3:00 a.m. and New Zealand at 9:22 a.m., all ET.

For both teams, this season is the last to try out some new players, combinations and any new wrinkles within the game plan without Olympic consequence. The qualification format for Tokyo 2020 is the same as it was for Rio in 2016, meaning the top four teams at the end of the 2018/2019 Series will automatically qualify for Tokyo, and seeding will be determined by the aggregate World Series standings from the ‘18/’19 and ‘19/’20 seasons.

That could mean some younger players get a look this year coaches wouldn’t give them next season, when the qualification chips are down. For the women, that’s the case, with four debutants in the side and a few more who are playing just their second tournament. The men have brought in just two Series rookies, one of whom is the 13th man, so he may well not suit up unless there’s an injury.

The viewing options for both the men and women are different. The women’s series will be carried by The Rugby Channel, while the men’s series is being streamed on ESPN3. World Rugby streams the tournament live for free on its own site, though that feed is often geo-blocked when the rights holder in a given country is also showing it. It remains to be seen if the free World Rugby feed will be geo-blocked in the USA this season.

Against their Dubai pool rivals last season, the women were 1-5. They fell 26-7 to South Africa in Dubai, and 31-14 to France in Japan. They played the Black Ferns four times in ‘16/’17, winning the first meeting in Sydney, 19-12, but losing the final three by a single try each time in Las Vegas, Langford and France. New Zealand went on to win the World Series title, while the USA finished sixth and France seventh. South Africa competed in just the one tournament, finishing 12th.

Against their Dubai pool rivals last season, the men went 9-3. They completed clean sweeps over Argentina and Samoa, beating them four times each. They went 1-3 against New Zealand, beating the All Blacks in Las Vegas for third place, but losing in New Zealand, Singapore and Paris. The Eagles fifth, their highest ever and one spot behind New Zealand. Argentina finished ninth and Samoa 13th.