New Zealand without Michaela Blyde for final World Series push
We wrap up the main squad news ahead of this weekend’s tournament finale in the women’s HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2023.
All Blacks Sevens head coach Clark Laidlaw has named an experienced team to take the field in Toulouse as they look to wrap up a 14th HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series title.
It now seems like a matter of when rather than if for New Zealand, who were last crowned overall Series champions in 2020, after they collected a fourth gold medal in five tournaments in Singapore last month.
Victory against Argentina in the Cup final there means a top-two finish in Toulouse will be enough for them to finish top of the standings.
The All Blacks Sevens welcome back the accomplished duo of Scott Curry and Tim Mikkelson from injury.
Captain Sam Dickson and the talented Roderick Solo also re-join the team, alongside Che Clark who has been named in the side for the first time since the HSBC Sydney Sevens in January.
Amanaki Nicole, Andrew Knewstubb, Ngarohi McGarvey-Black and Tone Ng Shiu are not available due to injury, while Lewis Ormond and Joe Webber miss the trip to Europe for personal reasons.
Having overcome long-standing groin and Achilles problems, Mikkelson is set to play in his 100th international tournament for the All Blacks Sevens, and his first on the Series since Vancouver in 2020.
Laidlaw was wholesome in his praise for the 36-year-old who made his Series debut in George, South Africa, in December 2007.
“Tim is an incredible player, a true inspiration for us all, with a great love for his team and the jersey. His dedication and resilience he has shown over his whole career but in particular this last year, shows how outstanding he is,” he said.
“We are looking forward to seeing him take the field and achieve this significant milestone.”
Meanwhile, Dylan Collier will play his 50th Sevens Series tournament after making his debut in Wellington in 2015.
On paper, New Zealand would appear to have the easiest of draws with relegation-threatened Uruguay, Kenya and Canada joining them in Pool A.
Argentina remain New Zealand’s closest, and only realistic, challengers for the overall crown but with a 24-point deficit and only 42 points left to play for, it would require a remarkable set of results in Toulouse and London to stop New Zealand.
Los Pumas Sevens are once again led by Gaston Revol, who will extend his Series record for tournament appearances to 97 in Toulouse.
Coach Santiago Gomez Cora has made two changes to his squad from Singapore with Agustin Fraga and Tobias Wade in and Alejo Lavayen and Matias Osadczuk out.
Argentina have been drawn in Pool B with Great Britain, Spain and the invitational team, Germany.
New Zealand secured qualification for Paris 2024 in Singapore, while it is likely Argentina will take the second ticket and Fiji could grab the third in Toulouse.
For Fiji, hard-hitting utility back Filipe Sauturaga comes back into the fold after being sidelined with injury since January.
Flying Fijian legend, Jerry Tuwai, has also made the cut but Tevita Daugunu hasn’t recovered from the knee injury he sustained in Singapore.
Pool C looks the ultimate ‘Pool of Death’ with Fiji set to face hosts France, South Africa and the USA.
Australia climbed back into the fourth and final Paris 2024 Olympics qualification spot by winning the fifth-place play-off in Singapore, but they are far from assured of staying there by the time the 2023 Series finishes in London next weekend.
Relative Series newcomers, Kye Oates and James Turner come into the Australia squad with no place for Max Burey or Ben Marr.
Samoa hand Series debuts to Malakesi Masefau and Faamaoni Suetena as they look to stay in contention for a top-four spot. They are a solitary point behind Australia, while South Africa are five further back.
The Blitzboks will be going all out for a big performance in Toulouse, to not only further their Olympic claims but also mark captain Siviwe Soyizwapi’s 50th tournament appearance in style.
The 30-year-old will become the ninth South African to reach this milestone. Double Olympian Justin Geduld is a member of that elite club and the 29-year-old makes a welcome return to the Series in Toulouse after 15 months out with a serious knee ligament injury.
Soyizwapi is also just one try away from becoming only the fourth South African in Series history to score 150, behind Seabelo Senatla (230), Cecil Afrika (179) and Fabian Juries (178).
There is now a 12-point gap between the Blitzboks and the USA, who hand a Series debut to Ryan Santos.
USA veteran Perry Baker is sitting out the remainder of the series to undergo surgery for an injury sustained earlier this year.
Mike Friday’s team are two points ahead of Ireland in eighth place in the overall standings.
Ireland have a tough-looking set of fixtures having been drawn in Pool D with Samoa, Australia and Japan.
Regardless of the outcome, it will be a memorable weekend for uncapped duo, Connor O’Sullivan and Sean Galvin.
Also included in James Topping’s squad are Olympians Jack Kelly, Billy Dardis and Bryan Mollen. All three missed last month’s action in Singapore.
Meanwhile, Scarlets scrum-half Harri Williams will get his first taste of the Series in a Great Britain jersey.
Great Britain are too far adrift to have any say in the top-four picture and are also well clear of the three relegation play-off places.
Any two from Uruguay, Spain and Kenya will join Canada, or the current lowest-ranked core team Japan, and World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series winners Tonga at the play-off tournament in London, on 20-21 May.
Marcos Pastore makes his first appearance of the year for Uruguay having sat out the last five rounds in an otherwise unchanged Los Teros Sevens squad.
Spain have two new faces in Tobias Sainz-Trapaga and Joan Losada, while Damian McGrath has picked the most experienced squad available to him as the Shujaa try to get themselves out of relegation trouble.
Only New Zealand and Argentina’s squads have made more than Kenya’s 342 tournament appearances; however, Anthony Omondi misses his first tournament of the Series.
For Canada, Jack Carson is set to play in his first Series tournament outside of North America. Previously he has played in two Vancouver events and one in Los Angeles and Edmonton.
Carson and Brock Webster come into the squad for Will Percillier and Brening Prevost.