From Jonah Lomu to David Campese and Portia Woodman to Charlotte Caslick, some of the biggest names in rugby have competed at the Commonwealth Games since the sport was first introduced in its sevens format in Kuala Lumpur in 1998.
Men’s rugby sevens has been played at every Commonwealth Games since then, with a women’s competition added to the schedule for the first time on the Gold Coast in Australia in 2018.
With its fast-paced, unpredictable nature, rugby sevens has always been one of the most popular tickets in town and the Coventry Stadium, home to English club rugby giants Wasps, will be a brilliant venue to watch the stars of the shortened game strut their stuff.
New Zealand dominated the first four Commonwealth Games and won every single tournament until losing in the final to South Africa at Glasgow 2014. However, they regained their title at Gold Coast 2018, with the Black Ferns Sevens making it a unique double, and will be among the favourites to top the podium again.
Lasting 11 days, Birmingham 2022 will have a record 286 sessions across 19 different sports. The line-up for the biggest multi-sports event to be held in the United Kingdom since the London 2012 Olympic Games will be determined by combined results across HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2020 and 2021, and the outcome of various regional qualification tournaments.
The qualification criteria
The top nine Commonwealth teams, based on series results, will automatically qualify for the men’s competition, excluding the host team England, along with six regional qualifiers, broken down as follows: two from Africa and Asia and one apiece from Oceania and North America.
For the women’s competition, the line-up will comprise the host team, plus the top two Commonwealth teams from the 2020 and 2021 series and the best-placed North American team. If a North American team is already in the top two, the side from that region with the next best record will qualify. Four regional qualification winners from Africa, Asia, Europe and Oceania will join them in Birmingham.
Reigning champions New Zealand’s results would have to fall off a cliff for them not to be present in England’s second city in 18 months’ time. They lead both the men’s and women’s standings, from South Africa and Australia/Canada, respectively.
In the men’s competition, the All Blacks Sevens and Blitzboks earned 115 and 104 points respectively in last year’s series, while fellow Commonwealth countries Fiji and Australia have some ground to make up but should join them at Birmingham 2022 via the direct qualification route. After that, Canada, Scotland, Kenya and Samoa are all firmly in the mix.
The Black Ferns Sevens hold a 16-point lead over Australia and Canada at the top of the women’s standings following the conclusion of the 2020 series. It would take a remarkable turn of events for Fijiana to take one of the direct passes to Birmingham as they are 42 points further back.
The sport with a license to thrill
For anyone wondering why rugby sevens is viewed as a must-watch event at the Commonwealth Games, cast your minds back to the inaugural women’s final, won by New Zealand in sudden-death extra-time.
In one of the greatest games of sevens ever seen, Olympic champions Australia and world champions New Zealand went toe-to-toe for nearly 25 minutes in an incredible cacophony of noise until Kelly Brazier broke through in the sixth minute of extra-time to secure a 17-12 victory for her side.
The history of the men’s event is equally well decorated. The Commonwealth Games has produced some epic contests between New Zealand and Fiji, in particular, providing a platform for players such as Eric Rush and Waisale Serevi to become global superstars.
Lomu, a World Rugby Hall of Fame inductee like Serevi, was already established as the poster-boy of rugby when he played a starring role in New Zealand’s success in Kuala Lumpur, where Campese, a Rugby World Cup winner with the Wallabies in 1991, signed off from all forms of international rugby with a bronze medal.
But the Commonwealth Games has also served as a launchpad for promising young players to develop their game in front of big crowds and against international opposition. Mils Muliaina (2002 and 2011) and Kwagga Smith (2014 and 2019) are two examples of players who won the gold medal at a Commonwealth Games and went on to win the Rugby World Cup.
Thanks to the growing reach and pulling power of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series and the profile that comes with being an Olympic sport, rugby sevens continues to increase in popularity and is ready to play its part in the biggest Commonwealth Games on record.