Eighteen of the 25 teams that have arrived in Brisbane for the Oceania Rugby Sevens Championship 2023 have done so with their sights set firmly on Olympic qualification.
By the end of the three-day tournament at Ballymore Stadium, which kicks off this Friday, two teams – one men’s and one women’s – will have booked their ticket to the Olympic Games Paris 2024.
In doing so, they will ensure Oceania has its biggest representation at an Olympic sevens tournament next year. Australia’s and New Zealand’s men and women, and back-to-back men’s gold medallists, Fiji have already secured their place at the tournament in France.
The dream will not be over for second and third highest ranked non-qualified teams in each tournament, meanwhile, as they will go on to compete in the Final Olympic Qualification Tournament in 2024.
Samoa’s men came agonisingly close to sealing their passage to a first Games through the World Rugby Sevens Series 2023, finishing just a place and a point below Australia in the race for the final qualification spot.
Brian Lima’s side will kick off their 2023 Championship campaign against Tuvalu at 14:34 local time (GMT+10) on Friday, and they will be one of the favourites to emerge victorious in Brisbane.
Solomon Islands, Cook Islands and American Samoa will line up alongside Samoa and Tuvalu in Men’s Pool B, with the team that tops the standings at the end of the pool stage going on to face the nation that wins Men’s Pool C.
Like Samoa, Tonga have never previously appeared at an Olympic sevens tournament, and they face competition from Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Kiribati and Nauru in Men’s Pool C.
Tonga head into their opening match against Nauru (kick-off 13:50 local time) on Friday at the end of a year in which they won the World Rugby Challenger Series 2023 but came up short in the World Rugby Sevens Series 2024 Play-off.
“While we acknowledge Samoa as a strong and seasoned competitor, it's important to highlight that the tournament is known for its high level of competition, and there are several formidable teams that we consider potential threats as well,” Tonga coach Tevita Tuifua said.
“We've seen significant growth in the performance of island nations like Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and the Cook Islands, which have been improving year after year and can't be underestimated.”
Whoever wins the Men’s Oceania Olympic final will go on to contest the overall Championship final against the team that emerges from Men’s Pool A – which features 2023 Series winners New Zealand, Fiji, Australia, Niue and an Oceania squad.
“Although we were extremely disappointed that we missed out on automatic qualification, we are aware that the Oceania Sevens is perhaps our best chance to qualify, with New Zealand, Fiji, and Australia having already qualified,” Samoa coach Lima said.
“It is critical that we make use of this opportunity because, should we fail, the chances will be even more difficult, with South Africa and Great Britain also vying for the remaining spots in the final Olympic repechage next year.”
Eight women's teams chase Olympic qualification
In the Women’s Sevens Championship, eight teams – including Tokyo 2020 bronze medallists Fijiana – are competing for the prized ticket to Paris.
Fijiana kick off their Women’s Pool B campaign against Cook Islands at 13:06 local time on Friday and will go on to play Tonga and tournament debutants American Samoa in Brisbane.
The top two teams at the end of the pool stage will qualify for the Oceania Olympic Cup semi-finals, against the top two from Women’s Pool C.
Papua New Guinea, who competed in the 2023 Challenger Series, have been drawn in Women’s Pool C and will take on Samoa, Solomon Islands and Nauru for a place in the semi-finals.
The winners of the two Olympic Cup semi-finals will meet at 16:24 local time on Sunday to decide which team takes their place at the 2024 Games in Paris.
Regardless of the result, both teams will play one more match at Ballymore Stadium. The victors will take on either Australia or a New Zealand development squad in the overall Championship final.
Fijiana coach Saiasi Fuli said: “It's a massive opportunity for us as a team to prepare well and play in the upcoming Oceania Sevens.
“We are into our pre-season phase, and our girls are looking forward to playing in the Oceania Sevens and trying to secure a spot for the Paris Olympics.
“We missed out on [automatic qualification from] the Series [on] the final day in Toulouse, and we as a group had set our goal to rest well, recover, and prepare for the qualification.”
A total of 18 teams have already booked their tickets to Paris. Argentina, Ireland, Kenya, USA and Uruguay have all confirmed their places alongside New Zealand, Fiji, Australia and hosts France in the men’s tournament.
The Black Ferns Sevens, Australia and France, meanwhile, have been joined by Brazil, Canada, Great Britain, Ireland, South Africa and USA in the women’s tournament.
Following this weekend’s action in Brisbane, the final regional qualifiers will be confirmed at the Asian Qualification Tournament in Osaka between 18-19 November. The identity of the 12th team in each tournament will then be decided at the Final Olympic Qualification Tournament next June.