(Via World Rugby)

We’ve reached the halfway point of the HBSC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series 2016-17, a campaign which has the added incentive of securing a place at RWC Sevens 2018 for the four highest ranked teams outside of the already qualified nations New Zealand, Canada, Spain and USA.

With Olympic champions Australia, Fiji, Russia and France currently filling those coveted spots, it’s time to look back at the first three rounds and assess the action so far as the series heads to Japan for the first time this weekend.

VIEW SERIES STANDINGS >>

ROUND ONE: DUBAI, 1-2 DECEMBER, 2016

Tournament points: 1,136
Tournament tries: 186

Tournament winner: New Zealand

Top try-scorer: Michaela Blyde (New Zealand), 10
Top point-scorer: Michaela Blyde (New Zealand), 50

VIEW DUBAI RESULTS >>

With the profile of rugby sevens still riding high after its Olympic Games debut in Rio back in August, the excitement ahead of the start of the fifth HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series was palpable and the action at 7he Sevens Stadium in Dubai didn’t disappoint.

New Zealand had failed to win a tournament in 2015-16 and had to watch as their trans-Tasman rivals Australia not only took their series crown but also Olympic gold. Under new head coach Allan Bunting though, the Black Ferns Sevens were inspired.

They conceded only four tries en route to the final where they exacted revenge for their Olympic gold medal match loss with a dominant 17-5 victory over Australia thanks to tries from Portia Woodman and two from Rebekah Cordero-Tufuga. Kelly Brazier, just back from 15s duty, was the HSBC Player of the Final as the Black Ferns Sevens ended a five-match losing run against Australia.

Russia claimed the bronze medal after tries from Elena Zdrokova (two) and Alena Mikhaltsova capped an impressive weekend with a 19-14 victory over a youthful England side. The first Challenge Trophy final – formerly known as the Bowl – saw Ireland edge Spain 14-12.

ROUND TWO: SYDNEY – 3-4 FEBRUARY, 2017

Tournament points: 1,134
Tournament tries: 190

Tournament winner: Canada

Top try-scorers: Joanne Lagona (Papua New Guinea) and Naya Tapper (USA), nine
Top point-scorer: Joanne Lagona (Papua New Guinea), 49

VIEW SYDNEY RESULTS >>

The first of three new stops on the women’s series in 2016-17 and a rare chance for Olympic and series champions Australia to play on home soil. The weight of expectation on Australia’s golden girls was huge, could they become the first to win their home tournament in series history?

The answer was ultimately no, as Australia fell in the semi-finals to Canada and then a Michaela Blyde double ensured New Zealand were comfortable 19-0 winners in the trans-Tasman battle for bronze at the Allianz Stadium.

North American pride was at stake as Canada and USA locked horns in the gold medal match, both teams having shown improvements from round one, the Canadians bolstered by the returning Jen Kish while the Americans had finished 11th in Dubai.

Naya Tapper scored a hat-trick for USA and was named HSBC Player of the Final, but it was Canada who would lift the distinctive trophy after tries from Brittany Benn, Charity Williams and Bianca Farella sealed a 21-17 victory.

Brazil had cause to celebrate after beating England to win the Challenge Trophy, compounding a disappointing tournament for the Red Roses who failed to progress to the Cup quarter-finals for the first time. Invited team Papua New Guinea also left their mark with stand-out player Joanne Lagona earning a place in the tournament dream team, scoring nine of her team’s 10 tries in their debut event.

ROUND THREE: LAS VEGAS – 3-4 MARCH

Tournament points: 1,123
Tournament tries: 183
Tournament winner: New Zealand

Top try-scorers: Emilee Cherry (Australia) and Ghislaine Landry (Canada), eight
Top point-scorer: Ghislaine Landry (Canada), 66

VIEW LAS VEGAS RESULTS >>

The Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas became the third home of a women’s series event in the USA – after Houston and Atlanta – and the first to combine both the men’s and women’s series events.

The tournament didn’t start well for the hosts, though, when they slipped to a surprise 24-21 loss, but they battled through to the knockout stages and then avenged that loss to reach a second consecutive semi-final.

They were joined there once again by Canada, New Zealand and Australia, the latter as the best runners-up after they suffered a third loss in a row to the Black Ferns Sevens in 2016-17 in what was their first-ever meeting in the pool stages of a series event.

Canada’s playmaker Ghislaine Landry surpassed Portia Woodman as the all-time leading point scorer in series history on day two, but it was Australia and New Zealand who set up another title decider after battling past the Canadians and USA respectively.

A brace from Landry ensured that Canada again had the edge over their neighbours in the bronze medal, while Australia again had no answer to New Zealand in the title decider with HSBC Player of the Final Ruby Tui among the try-scorers in a dominant 28-5 win.

While Fijiana finished fifth for a third successive tournament to highlight their continued threat, England again failed to reach the Cup quarter-finals and slumped to a Challenge Trophy final defeat again, this time to Spain.

Who will grab the limelight when the HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series makes its first visit to Japan this weekend? Join the conversation @WorldRugby7s using #Kitakyushu7s.