The FIRA Women's European Trophy 2009 kicks off in Sweden this weekend with eight teams vying to clinch one of only two available qualifying berths for the 2010 Women's Rugby World Cup in England.
Of the six sides that compete in the RBS Women's Six Nations, England, France, Wales and Ireland are already assured of places in the tournament, leaving Scotland and Italy to fight it out with Spain (formerly in the Six Nations), Germany, Russia, Netherlands, Belgium and hosts Sweden over the next week.
The Scots line up in Pool A, in which they play Russia on Sunday in Enköping, and the Netherlands play Belgium.
Italy head Pool B and take on hosts Sweden on the opening match day, while Spain face Germany in Stockholm.
The two teams who finish top of their respective pools over the three match days on 17, 20 and 23 May will qualify for the World Cup.
Scotland coach Jamie Dempsey has gone with both youth and experience in his side for the opening match. Eighteen-year-old Sarah Quick, fresh from a Premier league, Cup, and Under 18 Cup treble, has been named in the senior squad for the first time, while Donna Kennedy returns to the front line for her 101st cap, alongside back row stalwarts Lynne Reid and Susie Brown.
"Definitely the most challenging aspect of this tournament will be the high intensity of these three matches in such a short space of time [six days], but we have a squad of 26 where the competition for places and the focus on winning our group is extremely high," said Dempsey.
"Last season Russia competed in the B tournament but they won it convincingly. They've just competed in the Sevens World Cup and have been training as a semi-professional outfit for the past nine months.
"They're coming here with a lot confidence. I'm expecting them to be quick, athletic and very physical. We'll have to combat that with our own physicality, borne out of our experiences in the Six Nations Championship which will hopefully give us the edge."
Spain were themselves part of the Six Nations up until three years ago, and also impressed at the Rugby World Cup Sevens in March, suggesting that they might push Italy hard in the other pool.
2010 Women's Rugby World Cup qualifying process
Reigning champions New Zealand, runners-up and hosts England and bronze medal winners France pre-qualified for next year's 12-team World Cup tournament, which will take place in West London in August and September 2010.
The three teams will be joined by South Africa, Canada and USA, who all gain automatic passage, while Wales and Ireland qualify courtesy of being the top two sides in the recently completed RBS Women's Six Nations other than England and France.
Aside from European qualifying, the two remaining places will come from the Asia and Oceania regions. The Asian qualifier will be determined by the ARFU Championship, while Australia and Samoa will meet in a one-off match to decide Oceania's qualifier.
Women's FIRA European Trophy 2009 (Women's RWC Qualifier)
Enköping & Stockholm, Sweden - 17-23 May 2009
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