The revamped HSBC SVNS 2024 returned with a bang in Dubai last weekend.
South Africa and Australia – reigning kings and queens of the desert – retained their vice-like grip on their trophies. The impressive Argentina picked up right where they left off, and we learned much about the rising and tumbling stocks of various Olympics-destined nations.
It threw up plenty of questions into the SVNS ether, and – with round two hours away – here are some of the ones we’re most eager to have answered...
Is Cape Town ready for a sevens party?
Dubai was a festival. Mesmeric performances on the pitch, and a party in the stands. Commentators could only chuckle at the Noah’s Ark conga line snaking its way throughout Sunday’s Super Session; Saturday’s famous flyover might not have hit Bienne Terita speeds, but was arresting nonetheless; the band invading the pitch had everyone dancing – and the concourse was heaving with invitational athletes from across the world.
The circus has rolled into a very different city in Cape Town, but the early signs are that everyone’s ready to celebrate here, too.
Teams were greeted at the team hotel by live music and dancing hotel staff – while event staff, dazzling in sunshine yellow T-shirts, have enthused all week about the Blitzboks’ resurgence. The excitement is palpable.
The atmosphere as South African sides compete before their compatriots will be special.
The Blitzboks were unplayable at times on their romp to a fifth successive title in Dubai, and the Springbok Women's Sevens are an irrepressible force. Imagine the scenes if Rosko Specman produces a moment of magic in a knockout fixture, or if Mathrin Simmers unleashes one of her flyers at a key moment … it’s going to go off!
How will the Black Ferns cope without Sarah Hirini?
Hirini is more than a brilliant all-round athlete and nine-time sevens major medallist, who’s been nominated five times for World Rugby Women's Sevens Player of the Year. She’s a talismanic leader. Clinical decision-making, inspiring physicality, infectious but composed energy, and an off-field beacon – you can’t overstate what she brings to this Black Ferns Sevens set-up.
After a characteristically influential start with crucial involvements against South Africa, she sustained a tournament-ending knee injury against Great Britain. Hirini’s response to her team-mates’ impassioned Haka upon her departure suggests she knows she faces a frustrating spell on the sidelines.
The Black Ferns Sevens operate and thrive as a collective. It will be fascinating to see how they fare without Hirini here.
There’s additional pressure on them now, too: Australia – magnificent all weekend in Dubai – snapped their record-breaking 41-match streak in the final and will want to accelerate throughout the season.
Last year, Charlotte Caslick and her gold-clad crusaders topped the podium in Dubai, before the Kiwis hit the front and stayed there for the rest of the series. Can they wrestle back momentum without Hirini?
Who’ll edge this week’s battle of the Mega-Contracts?
Jorja Miller, and sisters Teagan and Maddison Levi, have cumulatively signed a decade’s worth of contract extensions over the off-season. The battle to be crowned champions in Dubai showed exactly why their unions are so desperate to keep them.
Their average age is only 20, but they scored six out of seven tries in the final in Dubai. The try stats don’t even do their contributions justice: these wunderkinds kicked goals, executed steals, punctured defensive lines and scored pearlers – properly special individual efforts that simply reinforced just what generational talents they are.
Thanks to those contract extensions, we’ll get to enjoy the latest gifted stars of the timeless Antipodean rivalry for years to come as they pull increasingly staggering rabbits out of hats at the heart of the two best teams in the game.
Can South Africa women spring more surprises?
In Pool C in Cape Town – in the women’s event – Canada, France, and USA know one another well from years of competition, recently facing each other in Dubai, so there’s not much homework to be done there.
While they’ve plenty of analysis to do, they will all be glancing over their shoulders with real wariness, over last weekend’s explosive surprise package: South Africa. They were a joy to watch, playing with such physicality, pace, fearlessness, and accuracy at times that they could have (perhaps even should have) beaten New Zealand and Fiji. They got their first win over Spain and eventually finished 10th.
That confidence and sense of unfinished business from their first outing makes them dangerous. The electric Nadine Roos was particularly eye-catching and will be the highlight of more than one scouting report in Cape Town.
Can Samoa replicate last year’s Cape Town conquest?
Last year’s Cape Town event was a blockbuster of surprises. Pre-tournament, you’d have got odds as long as the Table Mountain cable car on Samoa ousting the hosts in a thrilling semi-final, before beating New Zealand in the final. They impressed all weekend and handled the conditions masterfully to splash to an historic victory in the downpour as Vaa Apelu Maliko’s title-clincher was celebrated with joyful abandon. The Samoans turned the pitch into a slip ’n’ slide, as they triumphantly closed proceedings.
Things were tough in Dubai last weekend – Samoa were placed in the ‘Pool of Death’ alongside South Africa, New Zealand, and Canada. They lost by eight, fell short by two in a nail-biter, then scored 24 unanswered points to reach the Cup quarter-finals.
They should have put Los Pumas Sevens away in their quarter-final after going up 14-0, but Argentina – the Dubai weekend’s comeback kids – battered and scythed their way into the semis, and then the final. Samoa, out of steam perhaps, had to settle for sixth.
They showed glimpses of the uncontainable dynamism and raw power which secured them two podiums last season. They’re in a slightly less deathly group in Cape Town (New Zealand, Canada and Australia). Can this inexperienced squad produce more fireworks? We won’t have to wait long to find out.
By Imogen Ainsworth