Sixteen international teams will compete across two matchdays this weekend in the first of two HSBC World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series tournaments to be hosted in South America over the next fortnight.
The opening tournament takes place on Saturday and Sunday in Viña del Mar in Chile, before teams travel to the Uruguayan capital of Montevideo, for the next tournament, on 22-23 February.
This new and exciting series was developed to boost sevens’ growth across the globe, focusing on the development of the next generation of sevens stars.
The top eight teams in the Challenger Series after the South American tournaments will progress to the final play-off tournament at the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens event, which has been deferred from April to October, where they will compete for a spot on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2021.
“We are heading into a couple of exciting weekends,” says Felipe Brangier, the experienced Cóndores Sevens captain. “Playing at home, in front of our fans is something we must use to our benefit, more so as we have huge goals and want to be competitive.
“Our ultimate goal is to be in the final, and we are convinced that we can do it.”
Chile will open their campaign in Pool D against Mexico followed by games against Brazil and then Zimbabwe, the final act of the opening day’s 24-game schedule.
Having represented South America in all the recent HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series qualifiers, Brangier is well aware of the competition ahead. “This new Challenger Series is a great opportunity to have more games and time to develop a team before the big decider," he said.
The sixteen competing teams are divided into four pools, with the familiar format of the top two in each pool advancing to the quarter-final stage; the rest will compete for places nine to 16.
Hong Kong, Colombia, Jamaica and Papua New Guinea will play in Pool B, with Germany, Italy, Paraguay and Uganda lining up in Pool C.
Japan, a core team on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series as recently as 2019, are joined by Uruguay, Portugal and Tonga in Pool A.
Japan hungry for success
One of Japan's most experienced players is Rio 2016 Olympian Lote Tuqiri. “Our main target is to book a place for the Hong Kong tournament in Chile and Uruguay,” he said.
“Playing in four HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series tournaments this season (as an invitational team) have been great preparation for these two tournaments in South America.”
With Japanese rugby at an all-time high after a successful Rugby World Cup 2019, a swift return to the world series would be another positive step forward.
Before Hong Kong, though, is the small matter of the Tokoyo 2020 Olympics, and Tuqiri says his team are aiming to medal this time around.
"Playing at home will be a big challenge for us," he said. "We finished fourth in Rio, four years ago, so our motivation and hunger will certainly be there. The home crowd will certainly give us a boost.”