Preparations for the HSBC World Rugby Seven Series 2021 are in full flow, following confirmation that the season will kick off with back-to-back women’s events in Paris in May.

Those events will be the first on the World Series for 14 months, and will provide invaluable preparation on the road to the Olympic Games.

Once the medals have been handed out in Tokyo, all eyes will turn to Singapore, which is scheduled to host the proposed start of the men’s 2021 Series in October.

In anticipation of the 2021 Series, we take a look at some of the key storylines that could play out over the next 10 months.

One to Watch: Tim Mikkelson
New Zealand's Tim Mikkelson will feature for New Zealand at the HSBC Wellington Sevens and is one to watch

Who can stop New Zealand?

New Zealand were crowned champions in both the men’s and women’s HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series in 2020, the third time that has happened and first since 2014.

Heading into the new season, the All Blacks Sevens have lost only twice in 27 matches while the Black Ferns Sevens are on a run of 19 consecutive victories. We will find out in May whether AustraliaCanada or France can match the Black Ferns Sevens’ form.

The eight titles in the women’s World Series to date have been shared between New Zealand (six) and Australia (two), who will line up in Paris needing 31 tries to become only the second team, after the Black Ferns Sevens, to score 1,000. 

The USA, meanwhile, could become only the fourth women’s team to reach 5,000 points should they score 442 points this season.

We will get to see the men’s sides in action in Tokyo before their World Series begins, and Fiji and South Africa will be leading the chasing pack. Samoa are the only men’s team other than those ‘big three’ to have won a World Series title, doing so in 2009-10.

Fiji need 40 tries to become only the second team, after the All Blacks Sevens, to wrack up 4,500 on the World Series. Both of those teams are also closing in on 30,000 World Series points.

Kiwi stars close in on try-scoring milestones

Tim Mikkelson and Portia Woodman were named in the All Blacks Sevens and Black Ferns Sevens contracted squads for 2021 in January, and both have personal milestones within reach.

Woodman will begin the new season tantalisingly close to becoming the first woman to score 200 tries on the World Series. The World Rugby Women’s Sevens Player of the Decade, in association with HSBC, needs just five to bring up a double century on the series and become only the third woman in history to reach 1,000 points.

Mikkelson, meanwhile, goes into the 2021 campaign on 235 career tries. If the 34-year-old was to match his 2020 tally of 15 tries, then he would become only the third player to score 250 World Series tries, following in the footsteps of Dan Norton and Collins Injera.

Can Canadian duo continue to wrack up the points?

The making of: Ghislaine Landry (CAN)

Canada can lay claim to the all-time leading women’s points scorer on the World Series, and the highest scoring active male player in Ghislaine Landry and Nathan Hirayama.

Hirayama needs 141 points to become only the third player in history to score 2,000 World Series points, joining Ben Gollings and Tomasi Cama in an exclusive club. Coincidentally, Hirayama notched exactly that number of points during the abbreviated World Series 2020.

Landry is the all-time leading female points scorer on the World Series and is closing in on a unique double. The Canada captain is seven tries short of 150 and needs 144 points to reach 1,500. Were she to achieve both — Landry scored 16 tries and 170 points in 2020 — she would become the first woman to score 150 tries and 1,500 points.

Will Jordan Conroy and Stacey Fluhler maintain their stunning form?

Ireland’s Jordan Conroy enjoyed a stunning season in 2020, scoring 30 tries in 28 World Series appearances — including a record-equalling five in one match against Scotland in Dubai — to earn a place in the men’s HSBC Dream Team.

He also came second on the DHL Performance Tracker with 224 points, behind only France’s Tavite Veredamu (229). Ireland will hope his scoring touch hasn’t deserted him over the previous 12 months as they look to build on an encouraging 10th-place finish last season.

The Black Ferns Sevens’ 2020 title was built in large part on the electric pace and finishing ability of Stacey Fluhler, who was selected in the women’s HSBC Dream Team and named Women’s DHL Impact Player.

Fluhler scored 31 tries in 28 appearances. She also finished 37 points clear of her nearest challenger, Emma Tonegato, in the DHL Performance Tracker, which analyses individual players’ all round performances measured against four key criteria — offloads, carries, line-breaks and tackles.

She will surely be keen to add to her career tally of 48 tries when the World Series starts up again in Paris in May.

READ MORE: Canada keen to put challenging year behind them as they prepare for Olympic debut >>