HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series fans have just days to wait until its return and the first event of 2022 promises to be a fitting way to start a stellar year.

Malaga, the first of three new locations on the 2022 Series, will host the opening men’s and women’s tournaments of the year between 21-23 January.

But as the players prepare to perform in unfamiliar surroundings in southern Spain, they will be aware that they will also have to contend with some formidable returning rivals.

As part of an agreement to compete in the calendar year 2021, Great Britain took part in the opening two rounds of the 2022 Series in Dubai.

However, that is set to change at Estadio Ciudad de Malaga when England’s men’s and women’s teams as well as Wales’ and Scotland’s men return to action on the Series for the first time in almost two years.

It will be hard for any of those teams to mount a title challenge, given South Africa’s men and Australia’s women began the new season with back-to-back tournament wins in the UAE.

They will be keen to make up for lost time, though, heading into a busy year that also includes both the Commonwealth Games and Rugby World Cup Sevens 2022.

Several of Great Britain’s men’s squad could be set for an early reunion after England and Scotland were drawn in Pool A, alongside Series leaders South Africa. Olympic champions Fiji had been scheduled to join them but have since withdrawn from the tournament as they are unable to travel.

Wales are scheduled to take on France, Kenya and Canada in Pool D.

England’s women, meanwhile, will get their 2022 campaign underway against France, Russia and Brazil in Pool C of the tournament in Malaga.

New Zealand had also been scheduled to make their Series return in southern Spain, but COVID-19 travel restrictions mean they have since had to withdraw. Germany have replaced the All Blacks Sevens, while the Black Ferns Sevens’ place has been taken by Belgium.

Following the conclusion of the tournament in Malaga, the 2022 Series will head to another new location in Seville between 28-30 January. The men will then compete in Vancouver, Los Angeles and Singapore before the next women’s event in Langford in April.

The 2022 women’s Series will conclude at a combined tournament in Toulouse between 20-22 May, while the men will then travel to London to bring the curtain down on the season.

Common goal

But there is plenty more action to keep you entertained once the 2022 Series has finished, starting just a few hours’ drive north of London.

Coventry Stadium, home of English Premiership club Wasps, will host the men’s and women’s sevens tournaments at the Commonwealth Games 2022 between 29-31 July.

Series pace-setters South Africa and Australia will both be in contention in the Midlands, as New Zealand attempt to win more gold.

The Black Ferns Sevens beat Australia in the final on the Gold Coast four years ago and will face competition this time around from hosts England, Fiji and others.

In the men’s tournament, double Olympic champions Fiji will hope a new-look squad can dethrone the All Blacks Sevens, but the Blitzboks, England and Australia will also have their sights set on gold.

Whoever wins the men’s and women’s tournaments at the Coventry Stadium will head to RWC Sevens 2022 in Cape Town full of confidence – and potentially on track for a unique hat-trick of Series, Commonwealth Games and RWC Sevens titles.

Half of the 24 men’s teams and nine of the 16 women’s teams who will compete at Cape Town Stadium between 9-11 September have already been decided.

Regional tournaments will be held in Africa, Europe, North America and Oceania to determine the identity of the remaining 19 teams that will appear in South Africa.

New Zealand claimed victory in both the men’s and the women’s tournaments in San Francisco four years ago.

Only time will tell if they are able to repeat that feat, and continue the country’s remarkable sevens gold rush, at Cape Town Stadium in September.

READ MORE: Two Rugby World Cups headline action-packed year of rugby in 2022 >>