After a streamlined season was only possible in 2021 due to the ongoing impact of COVID-19, the HSBC World Rugby Series returned with a bang in 2022 with all the big guns back and firing – at one stage or another – in a bid to win the title.
The World Series opened up with back-to-back tournaments in Dubai at the end of November/start of December and while New Zealand and Samoa were still missing from an otherwise stellar line-up, some great rugby sevens was played.
With momentum behind them from their 2021 World Series win, South Africa hit the ground running to top the podium in both events.
First up, Neil Powell’s side dominated USA – in what turned out to be the Men’s Sevens Eagles’ only Cup final appearance – and won 42-7.
Australia proved much stiffer opponents the following week, though, and it took a second-half try from JC Pretorius for the Blitzboks to do the Dubai double. Argentina, meanwhile, had to settle for back-to-back bronze medal finishes.
Following Dubai, the Series moved on to Europe with Spain playing host for the first time with combined men’s and women’s events in Malaga and Seville on 21-23 and 28-30 January, 2022 respectively.
The venue may have been different but the result was the same as South Africa claimed a third straight gold medal. This time it took a post-buzzer try from Selvyn Davids to edge out Argentina.
Having sat out the first two rounds while Great Britain competed in Dubai, England announced their arrival with the bronze medal following a 24-20 win over Australia.
Australia went one better in Seville the next week but, once again, the Springbok Sevens were unbeatable. The stage looked set for another tight final when Ben Dowling opened the scoring for Australia in the sixth minute but the Series leaders rattled off 33 unanswered points to cruise home.
Ultra-consistent Argentina maintained their ever-present record on the podium with another bronze medal.
USA end Blitzboks’ winning run
By now, South Africa’s winning run stretched to an incredible 34 matches, a run that included their two tournament wins in Vancouver and Edmonton from 2021. Wins over Canada and Kenya took it to 36 but a surprise defeat to USA in their final pool fixture prevented them getting any closer to New Zealand’s all-time Series record of 48.
The defeat also led to the Blitzboks facing an unfavourable Cup quarter-final against Fiji. Fiji won the day 19-14, and the tournament, beating New Zealand 28-17 in the final.
It was a dream start for new Fiji head coach Ben Gollings and not a bad one for New Zealand given it was their first appearance of the Series. Australia denied Ireland the bronze medal.
With all 16 core teams on the Series in attendance, the Vancouver leg at BC Place was eagerly anticipated.
The Blitzboks still had a healthy 15-point lead at the top of the standings going into the tournament despite their setback in Singapore. But the gap between themselves and Argentina would be cut to six by the end of the weekend as Los Pumas Sevens celebrated their first Series gold medal since 2009 with a 29-10 win over Fiji in an emotion-charged final.
On the same weekend that World Series record top try-scorer, England’s Dan Norton, announced Vancouver would be his last tournament before enjoying a well-earned retirement, it was another speedster with magical feet, Marcos Moneta, that took all the plaudits with a 10-try return, including a double in the gold medal decider.
Australia won the bronze medal with victory against a dangerous-looking Samoan outfit looking to make up for lost time having sat out the first three rounds.
In Toulouse, Fiji returned to the top of the podium, defeating first-time finalists Ireland, 29-17. France delighted the home crowd by edging out Samoa in the bronze medal match.
Meanwhile, a fifth-place finish was enough for Argentina to knock long-time leaders South Africa off top spot in the overall standings.
🇦🇺 2 x @Aussie7s— World Rugby Sevens (@WorldRugby7s) August 29, 2022
🇦🇷 2 x @lospumas7s
☘️ 1 x @irishrugby
🇫🇯 1 x @fijirugby
🇿🇦 1 x @blitzboks
👏 Put your hands together for the #HSBCDreamTeam for the 2022 #HSBC7s Series @HSBC_Sport | #HSBC7sAwards pic.twitter.com/oxeCWw3ChA
With two rounds of the Series to go, it was clear that the destiny of the title was going to go right down to the wire.
Los Pumas Sevens headed to London on 118 points, ahead of South Africa on 116 points and Australia on 110 points.
Argentina failed to take their ‘A-game’ to Twickenham and could only finish ninth, while South Africa fell at the Cup quarter-final stages, leaving Australia with an opportunity to seize the initiative.
Having fallen just short of winning either of the previous seven tournaments, Australia struck gold in London with a 19-14 win over New Zealand giving them their first title of the season and their first since 2018.
Fiji beat Oceania rivals Samoa 31-26 to win the bronze medal and keep themselves in with a mathematical chance of lifting the Series trophy for the fifth time.
It was calculators at the ready for the Series finale in Los Angeles in August. South Africa went into the tournament having regained the lead, their tally of 124 points putting them two clear of Australia, with Argentina further back on 120 points and Fiji on 104.
South Africa had enjoyed plenty of success in the USA leg of the Series in the past, but this time it was not to be, the Blitzboks falling well short of their previous high standards in missing out on the Cup quarter-finals.
To have any chance of winning the Series crown both Argentina and Fiji needed to win the HSBC LA Sevens and hope that other results went their way.
Argentina’s challenge came to an end after a 24-19 defeat to Samoa in the Cup quarter-finals, but Fiji kept their interest alive until the very end by beating Australia 29-10 in the semis.
After nine tournaments, it all came down to the bronze medal match at Dignity Health Sports Park with Australia knowing victory over Samoa would make the result of the New Zealand v Fiji Cup final immaterial.
Leaving nothing to chance, John Manenti’s team delivered when it mattered most to beat Samoa 21-7. Fiji went on to win the gold medal with a 28-21 victory over New Zealand in the final.
A title race only matched by the ones in 2007 and 2017 in terms of their closeness ended with just two points between champions Australia (126) and runners-up South Africa (124) with Fiji back in third on 22. Argentina had to settle for fourth – their highest position since finishing third in 2004.