The World Rugby Sevens Challengers Series returned with a bang after a two-year absence in Santiago last weekend and ended with promotion to HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2023 for Japan’s women and Uruguay’s men following their respective victories over Poland and Georgia in the final.

Some sensational rugby sevens was played across the two days and we have called upon World Rugby commentators, Joe Byrnes and Jack Zorab, to pick out some of their personal highlights from the tournaments.

With Jack having called more women’s matches than men’s, we asked him to focus on that side of things, while Joe has run the rule over the men’s competition with each agreeing on one wildcard between them.


A fitting touch from Nakamura

It was a nice moment that the first try in the women’s final was scored by the ageless Chiharu Nakamura, who was Japan’s captain when they last qualified for the World Series in 2017. She had an excellent tournament all-round and remains the heartbeat of the team at the age of 34.

Winning the Challenger Series is a life-changing ticket for these Japanese players because most of the squad were too young to play U20s rugby – let alone senior, elite sevens – the last time Japan were a core nation on the World Series.

Had Poland won, their lives would have altered even more dramatically, as the Polish Rugby Union would have moved heaven and earth to make this team professional for a crack at the World Series. There really was that much at stake when these two teams went head-to-head on Sunday night in Santiago.

Next up for Japan are three of the most legendary sevens destinations back-to-back: Cape Town for Rugby World Cup 2022, followed by Hong Kong and Dubai as the first two tournaments of the World Series in 2023.

With the momentum they’ll have from this weekend, it’s exciting to think about what could achieve during a season of rubbing shoulders with the likes of Australia, Fiji, Ireland and New Zealand.   

Lionesses Roaring

In their own coach’s words, Kenya are in a rebuilding phase following last year’s Olympics. That’s what all their pre-tournament chat was about anyway. It might have been a bluff, however, for they were superb! Either way, in Santiago we all found out that this team has some very solid foundations.

They beat China – one of the strongly fancied teams – in their first match. Then they enjoyed a great win over South Africa, where they out-muscled and outplayed their African rivals to progress to the bronze medal match, where China ultimately sought their revenge.

Kenya were unpredictable, physical, aggressive and never afraid to take teams on. Nothing surprising there then, but they were also very well organised and in Janet Okello, Judith Okumu and Grace Okulu they have game-breaking players who will hopefully stay on the sevens scene for Kenya for many more years to come.

Chile star in their own TV reality show

In the lead-up to the tournament, Chile’s Gisel Castañeda told me that they were excited to be coming up against players and teams that they’d only ever seen on TV before. They not only got to play against those their TV idols but they also beat one of them – Mexico, 12-5 in the ninth-place semi-final. With the men’s XVs team having qualified for Rugby World Cup 2023 last month, it is an extremely exciting time for Chilean rugby.


“Welcome to the greatest rugby club in the world”

Uruguay won the final comfortably, 19-5. It meant they banished the ghost of Montevideo when they lost in the second period of golden point play against Japan the last time the Challenger Series was played – some 903 days ago.

Qualifying for the World Series is another big moment in what has been a brilliant period for South American rugby. Chile’s men finished third so the region filled two of the three podium places, and this is on top of Los Teros securing the Americas 1 ticket to Rugby World Cup 2023 and Chile joining them there as Americas 2 – both history-making achievements.

Lithuania light the touchpaper

You wouldn’t have known that it was Lithuania’s first-ever World Rugby sevens tournament with the way they performed in Chile. They found themselves in the toughest pool yet pushed Germany and Uganda all the way and finished in ninth place overall, beating Korea and Jamaica along the way.

In terms of players to watch in future events, Kestutis Karbauskas showcased his raw pace with a number of electric finishes that left opposition defences clutching at thin air, while any side would profit from the classy Arnas Urbonas pulling the creative strings for them in midfield

The future looks bright for the Challenger Series if the competitiveness on show across the board in Santiago is replicated next year.

Crane, and very able

It comes as no surprise that Uganda’s star player, Philip Wokorach, was in unbelievable form in Santiago, such is his ability to perform at the highest level from one tournament to another.

Wokorach bossed play from the moment he scored a hat-trick in the Rugby Cranes’ first game, a 26-12 win against eventual winners Uruguay. Everything he did was quality and every time he got the ball, something happened,


Papua New Guinea may not have got the results but they left every last drop of sweat out there.  They have two speeds – zero and 100 mph – but they can maintain 100mph for 14 minutes and longer! As with most high-velocity pursuits though, the faster you go, the more dangerous it becomes with their yellow card ledger reflecting this. It makes their super-charged performances all the more impressive as they were often doing it with six or even five players on the pitch!

Their relentless energy and commitment was truly infectious. If they can clean their discipline up, teams will take them lightly at their peril in any future encounters.


'Breakout' star in the stands

One of the relatives of the Tongan team was the star of the show in the stands with his breakdance routines. He really was a force of nature, and not just in support of Tonga but for every team. It felt like he was vying for promotion to the Series as a super-fan himself! He might even challenge Avo Man, not for the fancy dress, but in terms of projecting a feel-good factor on everyone around him, he was right up there.

Put him in the South Stand at Hong Kong and you would see him charm 40,000 people. He’s World Series ready.