Papua New Guinea's hopes of qualifying for the Women's World Sevens Series are in limbo after the Challenger Series in South Africa was postponed in response to Covid-19.
The inaugural Women's Sevens Challenger Series was scheduled to be played in Stellenbosch next weekend, with 12 countries competing to win a core spot on the 2021 World Series.
But World Rugby announced on Friday the event was being postponed in line with travel and health guidelines from the World Health Organisation and relevant public authorities.
"The health and safety of participating teams, tournament event staff and spectators is our highest priority," the governing body said in a statement.
The Papua New Guinea women's team assembled in Sydney on Wednesday and were scheduled to fly out for South Africa this weekend but head coach Paul Tietjens said the squad will now disperse and wait until they receive further updates.
"We had four players from Australia come into camp from Brisbane so they flew back [on Sunday] alongside a couple of my other management team members and then the final 12 players fly back home to PNG [on Tuesday] then it's a training and a waiting game I suppose," he said.
"The girls will keep training from their own locations on the programmes that I give them and we just play the waiting game and hope like anything that it can be rescheduled in the next month or two."
The PNG Palais finished fourth at the Oceania Women's Sevens Championship in November, earning them entry to the World Series Challenger and the final Olympic qualification tournament, which is scheduled to take place on the penultimate weekend in June.
Twenty-eight players attended a week of trials in Port Moresby last month, with Tietjens selecting 16 to travel to Sydney last week to train and play three matches against Australia.
He said the team were informed the Challenger Series had been delayed on the same day they played against the Olympic champions.
"As a management group we found out quite early on that Friday morning so we were aware of it but obviously didn't relay that to the ladies as they were still very much in preparation phase and we still wanted to get something out of those games and keep their mind on the job," he said.
"And we obviously broke the news to them at the end of that day, which was disappointing for them, but in saying that they got some quality game-time which they don't normally get when they're up in Papua New Guinea."
Tietjens said the Palais were able to put Australia under pressure at times and scored a few good tries but ultimately could not match the size and physicality of the World Series high-flyers.
It was still a valuable opportunity to gain some experience against an elite team and an important reminder of the need to execute the simple things well like maintaining the ball, remaining patient in possession and making their tackles.