Next year's Rio Olympics continues to drive the surge in popularity of sevens rugby.
The first of the significant tournaments this summer for aspiring Olympic hopefuls kicks off in Taupo today.
Five teams comprising 60 of the best women's sevens players in the country will battle it out over two, three-day events, in the second annual Women's Sevens Series that concludes in Auckland on November 15 alongside World Rugby's Oceania Sevens Championship.
Both events run over three days to replicate the Olympic tournament next August in Rio. The players are divided among five teams (Kauri, Pohutukawa, Kowhai, Manuka, Ti Kouka) and will play two matches a day in a round robin before the major finals day in Auckland.
Special guest in Taupo is the Samoan national team preparing for the vital Oceania Sevens tournament where the winner qualifies for Rio 2016.
Tauranga-based national coach Sean Horan says the series is about further preparing the best players for next year, with an Olympic style competition and building depth for the future.
"We have a great base, but we take nothing for granted. We know international women's sevens is getting more competitive every season so it's important we continue to work hard on expanding our talent pool and testing our tactics and skills at every opportunity," Horan said.
"With Rio only around nine months away, this will be a really good opportunity for the girls to get a good pre-season in. It will help us get a measure of who will be challenging for spots in the squad for the international Women's Sevens Series, which kicks off in Dubai in early December, and also for those 12 places in the Olympic team next year.
"Of the players playing, there are probably 30 to 35 that are true contenders and it will give them a taste of what Rio may be like, with the change up of playing two games per day and getting used to that. To get the hits, to play under anxiety, play under pressure, duress and under fatigue. But it also a great opportunity for others we may not have seen to be actually showcased out there in a tournament structure."
Horan is well aware his team are no certainties for gold in Rio.
A strong NZ Development team lost the Central Coast Sevens final to Australia last Sunday.
"We learnt a lot and we have got to get better in a lot of areas," Horan said. "They exposed us and their accuracy was very, very high. In certain areas they are better than us."