Twenty-four teams have arrived in Dubai as HSBC SVNS 2024 prepares for lift off at The Sevens Stadium this weekend.
World Rugby’s revamped and rebranded global celebration of rugby sevens will take place across eight iconic cities over the next six months as 12 men’s and 12 women’s sides compete to be crowned champions in Madrid on 2 June, 2024.
SVNS has been launched with the bold ambition to be more relevant and accessible to younger, leisure-hungry audiences and that new era will get underway at 09:00 local time (GMT+4) on Saturday when USA take on Spain and France face Canada in Pool C of the women’s tournament in Dubai.
Ahead of what promises to be a thrilling two days of rugby sevens, and an unmissable season, we give you the lowdown on the Emirates Dubai 7s 2023.
Black Ferns Sevens close on record
Fresh from Pan American Games gold, USA will hope to turn podium finishes into titles this season following a highly encouraging 2023 series, which they ended third behind New Zealand and Australia.
Head coach Emilie Bydwell has selected a hugely experienced squad for the opening round with Alev Kelter, Kris Thomas and co-captain Lauren Doyle primed to appear in their 40th tournament on the circuit. Cheta Emba, meanwhile, will play in her 30th.
Kristi Kirshe will sit out both Dubai and Cape Town through injury, but Ilona Maher and Jaz Gray are set to return to the series following spells on the sidelines.
“We are really excited as a team to get back out to SVNS and test the work that we have done throughout pre-season,” Bydwell said.
“We know that this is a long year, and we are looking forward to putting our best foot forward in Dubai with the focus really being on ourselves and our ability to maximise our potential, play to our strengths and dominate in some key areas of the game that set us apart.”
Paris 2024 hosts France welcome back World Rugby Women’s Sevens Player of the Year 2021 Anne-Cécile Ciofani in Dubai ahead of a huge year for the team, while both Canada and Spain will hope to lay down a marker at the start of the new season.
Eyes will then turn to Pool B, as three-time series champions Australia begin their 2024 campaign against Brazil and Ireland take on Japan at 09:22 local time.
Australia coach Tim Walsh has handed an international debut to Kaitlin Shave, while 11 players who helped the team to a momentous treble of titles (Commonwealth Games, Rugby World Cup Sevens and series) in 2022 have returned for another shot at glory.
That includes the prolific Maddision Levi, who scored a record 57 tries last season and was nominated for World Rugby Women’s Sevens Player of the Year 2023, and her sister Teagan, who recently signed new contracts with Australia Sevens until 2026.
Walsh said: “Sevens continues to go from strength to strength and, in an Olympic year, the launch of the invigorated new format will only enhance the entertainment spectacle and world class product the HSBC World Sevens Series delivers.”
Having secured an Olympic debut through the series last season, Ireland will want to prove they can challenge Australia and New Zealand for the title this season.
Japan, meanwhile, will hope to build on an encouraging 2023 campaign but the target for both the Sakura Sevens and Pool B rivals Brazil will be survival at this level.
The opening session of the women’s tournament will conclude with a first look at Pool A as reigning champions New Zealand take on newcomers South Africa and Fiji face Great Britain in a repeat of the Tokyo 2020 bronze medal match.
Sarah Hirini will again captain a fearsome looking Black Ferns Sevens squad, that starts the tournament in Dubai one win away from equalling their own series record run of 37 consecutive victories.
Should Cory Sweeney’s side beat the Springbok Women’s Sevens they would then have the opportunity to set a new benchmark in their second match against Great Britain (kick-off 13:05 local time).
Meanwhile, South Africa return to the series as a core team for the first time in eight years, having won the World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series 2023.
“We fought hard to get onto the circuit and were proud to achieve that goal of qualifying,” co-captain Mathrin Simmers said. “The big mission now is to make sure we finish in the top eight and stay on the series automatically.”
The match between Fiji and Great Britain should be a cracking one, given the teams finished the 2023 series level on 68 points following seven tournaments.
Whoever wins will gain momentum in their bid to reach the Cup quarter-finals, but there will still be plenty for the losing team to play for.
The entirety of the round-robin pool stage will be played on the opening day in Dubai, at the end of which we will know the identity of the eight teams in the running for the tournament title.
Each of the three pool winners and runners-up will qualify for the quarter-finals, where they will be joined by the two best third-placed finishers.
All Blacks Sevens begin title defence
The reduction in men’s teams from 16 to 12 per tournament this season should increase competition for those all-important Cup quarter-final places.
Nowhere is that more evident in Dubai than Pool C, where four-time champions Fiji begin a season they hope will conclude with a third Olympic gold medal alongside USA, France and Great Britain.
Fiji head coach Ben Gollings has included uncapped trio Rubeni Kabu, Netava Koroisau and Ilikimi Vunaki in his squad for the opening round, while Olympic gold medallist Kaminieli Rasaku returns following a spell in France.
Gollings’ side begin their Dubai 7s campaign against USA (kick-off 10:06 local time), whose head coach Mike Friday has left Perry Baker, Joe Schroeder, Stephen Tomasin and Kevon Williams at home for at least the opening two rounds.
Ben Pinkelman captains the squad, while there is a return for Madison Hughes, who last represented his country at Tokyo 2020.
Friday said: “We are under no illusion of the task that lies ahead in Dubai and Cape Town, and we have to give these young men the support and confidence to attack the challenge.
“With the power and speed we possess, if we can control our possession and we certainly have the capability to compete and beat any team.”
France reached six semi-finals during the 2023 series and they will be looking for more of the same this season with the likes of Aaron Grandidier, Paulin Riva and Varian Pasquet ready to mix it with the best once again. Jonathan Laugel is set to play in his 90th series tournament.
World Rugby Men’s 15s Player of the Year Antoine Dupont is scheduled to join the squad later in the season as their preparation for their home Games increases.
They open their season against Great Britain in Dubai, with Tony Roques’ side looking to build on an encouraging 2023 series in which they finished ninth.
Pool B pits Argentina, runners-up in 2023 and winners of the most recent tournament in London seven months ago, against 2022 champions Australia, Ireland and Spain.
Los Pumas Sevens get their Dubai campaign underway against Spain (kick-off 10:28 local time), at the same time as Australia face Ireland on the Sevens 2 pitch.
Veteran Gastón Revol has been included in the Argentina squad and will play his 99th tournament on the circuit this weekend.
Argentina made the Cup final of six of the eight tournaments played since the turn of the year as they finished just 21 points behind champions New Zealand.
Spain, meanwhile, reached the Cup quarter-finals only once in the entirety of last season and will hope to find some form heading into next year’s Final Olympic Qualification Tournament.
Australia endured an up and down 2023 series, but they are the reigning Dubai champions and head coach John Manenti has been able to welcome Ben Dowling back into his squad following a year with the NSW Waratahs.
Ireland’s squad for Dubai also features a returning familiar face as World Rugby Men’s Sevens Player of the Year 2022 Terry Kennedy is back in the fold at The Sevens Stadium.
Pool A will be the last to make its entrance in Dubai as defending, 14-time overall champions New Zealand take on Canada and Samoa face South Africa (kick-offs 10:50 local time).
New All Blacks Sevens head coach Tomasi Cama is without a number of players, including Andrew Knewstubb, Amanaki Nicole and Dylan Collier, yet he can still call on a star-studded squad in Dubai, led by captain Sione Molia.
Tim Mikkelson has been selected for a 94th series tournament, while prolific points scorer Akuila Rokolisoa is also included.
Canada made sure of their place in SVNS 2024 by winning the World Rugby Sevens Series 2024 Play-off at Twickenham in May, a result that came on the back of a semi-final appearance in Toulouse the previous week.
They have since won bronze at the Pan American Games and head coach Sean White is hopeful that can build on that success during SVNS 2024.
Samoa fell agonisingly short of securing Olympic qualification via the 2023 series – a feat they managed at the Oceania regional qualifying last month – but they will be without the try-scoring talents of Vaa Apelu Maliko in Dubai.
The Blitzboks, who will be captained by Selvyn Davids at The Sevens Stadium, have their own scores to settle following a 2023 season in which they finished seventh and then failed to secure an Olympic ticket through African qualifying.
Coach Sandile Ngcobo has not made the trip to Dubai due to medical reasons but has handed debuts to Quewin Nortje and Katlego Letebele in the season opener.
Experienced forward Impi Visser said: “Many of us made our debuts here and handing out training jerseys to our two uncapped players, Quewin Nortje and Katlego Letebele, at training today, reminded many of us how special this jersey and journey is.
“And that we did not always do the jersey proud last season. That hurt and will make us determined to use this opportunity to rectify that.”
The teams that finish in the top two of their pools at the end of day one will qualify for the Cup quarter-finals at The Sevens Stadium, alongside the two best third-placed sides.