Twelve teams in each of the men’s and women’s competitions will compete for direct qualification to the Paris 2024 Olympic Games at the European Games in Poland, which gets underway this weekend (25-27 June).

The third iteration of the multi-sport event doubles up as the European qualifier for next year’s showpiece event with all the medallists keeping their Olympic dream alive in one form or another.

The winner of both competitions is guaranteed their place in the Paris line-up, while the teams that finish second and third will head to the World Rugby Sevens Repechage that will determine the 12th and final qualifiers for the 2024 Games.

In the men’s competition, the charge to Paris will be led by core HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series teams, Ireland, Great Britain and Spain.

Great Britain and Spain will also be among the front-runners in the women’s competition but with Ireland having already qualified, hosts Poland are likely to be in and around the medals as well.

Matches will be played at the 33,130-capacity Henryk Reyman’s Municipal Stadium in Kraków, which was also the venue for the second round of the men’s 2022 Rugby Europe Sevens Championship Series when Spain were crowned champions.

Spain’s title defence did not get off to the best of starts in the Algarve a fortnight ago with a sixth-place finish in the opening round of this year’s Rugby Europe Sevens Championship Series.

Ireland on the gold trail 

That tournament was won instead by Ireland who go to the European Games with an unchanged 13-man squad.

Harry McNulty once again captains Ireland, with World Rugby Men’s Sevens Player of the Year 2022, Terry Kennedy, also included having made his return to the green jersey in Portugal.

“Coming off the back of the World Series season, we have been building towards the European Games in Krakow as we bid to follow the Ireland women and book our place at the Paris Olympics,” said head coach James Topping.

“As we saw in Portugal, it will be a very competitive tournament with 12 teams all heading to Poland with one ambition in mind. We know there will be no margin for error and the group understands we will need to be at our best to give ourselves the best possible chance of success.”

Ireland are in Pool A with Italy, Germany and Poland. Pool B is made up of Georgia, Belgium, Spain and Czechia, while Great Britain are paired with Portugal, Lithuania and Romania in Pool C. 

Great Britain looking for peak performance

Of all the women’s teams competing in the European Games, Great Britain performed best in the Algarve, finishing runners-up to France who, as hosts, have not had to qualify for Paris 2024. Ireland claimed the bronze medal with Poland and Spain taking fourth and fifth place.

Great Britain’s silver medal comes off the back of an encouraging first season on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series when they finished seventh and Olympian, Megan Jones, says the team is building nicely towards their qualification goal.

“It’s a big one for us, this weekend, It is something we spoke about at the beginning of the season.

“We came out of the World Series with a medal in Hong Kong, when we finished third, which was kind of unexpected, I guess, because we were looking to peak for the European Games.”

Building on World Series debut

Reflecting on that maiden World Series, Jones says the time spent together will hopefully serve them well when they are under the pump this weekend.

“I guess we got thrown straight into the deep end and we had to kind of roll with the punches,” she said.

“There was no prep towards it, I can’t even remember what the pre-season block was going into Dubai, but it wasn’t very long, and we also had a lot of players transitioning back into 15s. But I guess what we brought was the unknown to begin with which rattled a lot of teams and we built from game to game.

“Like with anything the longer you spend with people and the longer you invest your time in something the value of it shines through a little bit more, particularly when your backs are up against the wall and you’re looking to your left and to your right and you’re looking for people step up with you.”

A point to prove

Jones and the rest of the Great Britain crew flew out to Poland early on Tuesday morning with the sole focus of making it to Paris 2024.

The 26-year-old, from Cardiff, was a travelling reserve for Rio 2016 and played at the last Games in Tokyo. Great Britain finished fourth on both occasions and she would love to put that right if given the opportunity.

“Hopefully, it’ll be third time lucky!” she said.

“I guess we also want to prove as well, that this (Great Britain) works, that Team GB can be a bigger team than just one nation. We want to show how powerful Team GB can actually be.”

Being surrounded by athletes from other sports in Poland this weekend will also be a reminder of what awaits them if they make it to Paris.

“Going to any Olympics is huge, even this European Games is giving us that similar feeling of being there,” Jones admitted.

“We have got that Adidas kit and we are part of something that is far greater than us as individuals. It is something we are all driving to and this is just one of the hurdles we need to get over to get to our goal.

“Most of us have been to multi-sport games before with the Commonwealth Games just gone having been in Birmingham so are all pretty astute with what is going to happen and we are excited to get going.”

Identifying the main threats

Great Britain are in Pool A with Czechia, Italy and Turkey. Poland head up Pool B, which also includes Germany, Portugal and Norway, while Spain face competition from Belgium, Sweden and Romania in Pool C.

As touched upon before, Jones expects Spain and Poland to be their biggest threats.

“Spain are on the World Series so they have a high-level competition mentality throughout the year and have been very competitive as well. They have a lot of ‘steppers’ – players that are good laterally – and are a good team who have been building towards this as have we,” she said.

“It’s the same with Poland. They have been on the Series a couple of times as an invitational team and have surprised a couple of people. They have some good gas on the edge, they are physical and are building as a team. I know they have a competitive sevens league in Poland where most of their players play so they are very switched on to the game of sevens.”