In recent weeks, the Rugby Tens Championship has outlined its commitment to equal opportunity and giving players from developing rugby nations a platform to showcase their abilities.
Players from Portugal, Israel, Denmark, Sweden, Chile, Brazil, Russia and more will be making their way to Lisbon for the competition’s inaugural event.
However, it will not only be players from these developing rugby nations that will be plying their trade in Western Europe.
Several familiar names that have played on the world stage for an extended period of time will be making their way to Western Europe.
Two such players are Aimee ‘Axe’ Sutorius and Cecil Afrika, who will both be representing the San Clemente Rhinos this weekend. Sutorius is a staple of the women’s game in New Zealand, having played for both the Black Ferns and the Black Ferns Sevens in her career to date.
In recent years, she has largely focussed on the development of the next era of New Zealand internationals, coaching with both Otago and Wellington Pride in the Farah Palmer Cup.
“I am extremely grateful to have been invited to play in the Rugby Tens Championship,” Sutorius told RugbyTens.com.
“The tournament looks very fresh and exciting. With the Farah Palmer Cup in New Zealand having recently concluded, and with there being no national sevens competition, the timing of the tournament is the perfect opportunity for me to continue doing what I love.
“We do not play a lot of 10s in New Zealand, so taking on the challenge of playing a different format alongside international players is extremely appealing. As is the fact that it is being held in beautiful Portugal.”
Since 2009, Cecil Afrika has been one of the faces of sevens. Representing the Blitzboks over 300 times, the 33-year-old won an Olympic bronze medal in 2016 and Commonwealth gold in 2014.
Now playing his club rugby for Major League Rugby team San Diego Legion, he is passionate about the potential that the competition has.
“The Rugby Tens Championship is an opportunity to share my knowledge and experience, thus continuing to contribute to the growth of rugby as a whole on a global scale, especially in places where it has further room for growth,” Afrika said.
“I always leave enough room for myself to be of the mindset to learn. As such, the Rugby Tens Championship allows me the opportunity as a seasoned player to work and play with a diverse group of players, coaching staff, supporting staff and administrative staff who hardly obtain recognition.”
There is a smattering of star power across every squad, whether that be on the field or off it.
England and Great Britain stalwart Heather Fisher is lined up to be an assistant coach for the Serengeti Elephants women’s side, whilst her fellow Olympian, Harry McNulty, will also be adding his stardust to proceedings.
Many of the players who will be arriving in Portugal ahead of the first leg of this new competition will be playing professional rugby for the first time.
With this in mind, Afrika is looking forward to adding his wealth of professional rugby experience to the competition.
“My understanding of the game and playing at the highest level for 12 seasons will be evident in my approach on and off the field,” he said.
“Drawing from my experience from sevens as well as 15s platforms and sharing that with the guts. As a player, one makes contributions beyond what is visible on the field, which takes place during the preparation leading up to the games.
“I am always mindful as to how I can make the player next to me better on the field. It is a team sport. My experience of playing with a team that consists of diverse individuals also adds to the value I am able to contribute to the players around me.
“That is especially important when having to come together as a new team in a short space of time.”
Even for the players that have competed around the world, coming to Portugal to play rugby will be a first for some.
The men’s national team are hopeful of reaching their second ever Rugby World Cup, recently beating Canada for the first time in O Lobos history.
Competing in the Rugby Europe Championship, a top two finish in the competition next year will mean qualification for just their second ever World Cup, which will take place 16 The second oldest-capital city in Europe, Lisbon, is an attraction for players in itself and is the perfect stage for the Rugby Tens Championship to set out its stall.
“I have not been to Portugal before, so that in itself is going to be exciting,” Sutorius said.
“Adding the Rugby Tens Championship to that, with the fantastic array of international players that have been signed. It is super exciting and will be a fun experience for players and fans alike.”
“For us as pros who have played for a long time, we are hopefully going to be inspiring these kids to keep playing and show them the possibilities and it is a credit to the organisation for setting this whole thing up.”