The Oceania Rugby Sevens Championship returns to Suva on November 7 to 9 this year to be the most attended tournament by Oceania Rugby’s member Unions and international invitations.

The tournament which also serves as a regional qualifier for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, encourages equal opportunities for women’s rugby and deaf rugby across Oceania and beyond.

Oceania Rugby General Manager, Bruce Cook, said teams such as Vanuatu debuting in the Women’s Sevens for the Oceania Rugby Sevens Championships, is a great step for rugby in Oceania.

“Oceania Rugby continues to build and broaden opportunities for Women in Rugby in the region,” Cook said.

“To have Vanuatu field an international rugby team for the very first time, exemplifies our commitment to promoting an equal playing field for all in rugby,” he added.

Oceania Rugby Competitions Manager, Wayne Schuster, said Oceania Rugby is excited about the inclusion of the Oceania Rugby Deaf tournament which will feature international deaf teams from Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Samoa.

“In our commitment to inclusiveness and providing an equal playing field not only across gender, we will also promote rugby for special needs athletes and this year’s aspirations for deaf athletes will be a milestone occasion for the tournament,” Schuster said.

Schuster added that the prospect of this year’s tournament being an Olympic qualifier will ensure that this year’s Sevens tournament will be the most competitive to date.

“The unprecedented presence of non-regional teams traveling across the world to participate in our regional event reflects the prestige and respect the Oceania Rugby Sevens Championship holds,” Schuster said.

The tournament which also offers a significant qualifying spot for the 2021 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, will see the most number of teams to ever compete including the Black Ferns Development XV’s and Australia A this year, joining Fiji, Samoa, Papua New Guinea and Tonga.

New Zealand Rugby’s Head of Women’s Rugby, Cate Sexton, said the inclusion of a Black Ferns development side in the tournament was an exciting opportunity for emerging players to gain international experience.

“We’re also keen to play our part in helping to grow and develop women’s rugby in Oceania and it would be fantastic to have four Oceania countries represented at the 2021 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand,” Sexton said.

Rugby Australia’s Head of Women’s Rugby and Participation, Jilly Collins, said that Australia A is looking forward to the opportunity to play against other teams within the region.

“With the next Women’s RWC being in New Zealand in 2021, it would be fantastic for as many Oceania represented as possible. Playing in tournaments like this should help improve and develop every team involved,” Collins said

Papua New Guinea Women’s XV’s Coach, John Pangkatana, said that this year’s tournament will be a catalyst for the increased interest in women’s rugby for the country.

“It certainly raises the benchmark for us, and I see it as a positive challenge for us to rejig our preparation program and our in-country program to move with the change in a positive manner,” Pangkatana said.

Samoa Rugby Union Women’s Development Officer Avii Faalupega said this year’s Championships will be a great opportunity for the Oceania teams to compete against some of the world’s best teams.

“The tournament this year will set a higher quality standard of competition not only for Samoa, but also for Fiji, Tonga and Papua New Guinea,” Faalupega said.