Events in Dubai and Cape Town earlier this month have whetted the appetite for what promises to be a blockbuster 2024 for rugby sevens.
The new-look HSBC SVNS 2024 got off to a thrilling start at The Sevens Stadium at the beginning of December as Australia’s women and South Africa’s men continued their dominance in the desert.
Australia then followed up their success in Dubai with a first title in Cape Town to maintain their 100 per cent start to the women’s series, while Argentina – beaten finalists seven days before – lifted the men’s Cup title at DHL Stadium to take an early lead in the standings.
The entertainment has been as good off the pitch as it has on it, as tens of thousands of fans flocked to the opening two rounds to sample top-class live music, DJs, food and drink as well as enthralling rugby sevens action.
And with six tournaments to play, starting in Perth next month and taking in stops in Vancouver, Los Angeles, Hong Kong, Singapore and Madrid, it leaves the race to be crowned HSBC SVNS 2024 champions finely poised.
Unlike in previous years, the identity of the overall men’s and women’s champions will not be known until the end of the final tournament in Madrid in June.
As part of the revamped competition, the top eight teams in each of the men’s and women’s standings following seven rounds will be split into two pools of four and compete in a grand final at the iconic Civitas Metropolitano Stadium, the winner of which will take the overall season crown.
Meanwhile, the teams ranked ninth to 12th in the standings will face a battle to retain their SVNS status as they compete in a separate eight-team tournament alongside the top four teams from the World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series 2024.
Four men’s and four women’s teams will confirm their places in SVNS 2025 through the tournaments, which consist of a pool stage and a round of play-off matches.
The race to qualify for Madrid via the Challenger Series will begin in Dubai on 12 January as 12 men’s and 12 women’s teams step onto the start line.
Montevideo, Uruguay will subsequently host the second round in March, while the men’s Challenger Series 2024 will conclude in Germany and the women’s in Poland in May.
Sevens set for Paris party
Of course, SVNS is not the only show in town in 2024 and most of the 24 teams competing in the series will also have their eyes set on success at the Olympic Games Paris 2024 in July.
Eleven of the 12 teams in each of the men’s and women’s tournaments have already been decided through series and regional qualification.
However, there remains space for one men’s and one women’s team on the Stade de France pitch, with their identity set to be decided in Monaco between 21-23 June.
Rio 2016 bronze medallists, and Emirates Dubai 7s champions, South Africa will headline a strong 12-team men’s field at the World Rugby Sevens Repechage that also includes SVNS rivals Canada, Great Britain and Spain.
In the women’s repechage, China and Kenya each have previous Olympic experience, while Czechia qualified – beating SVNS side Spain along the way – in their first year in international sevens.
Whichever teams secure those precious final tickets to Paris 2024, the tournaments at Stade de France – the setting for two Men’s Rugby World Cup finals – promises to be another engaging advert for the shortened format.
The hosts will certainly fancy their chances of finishing with a medal in both the men’s and women’s tournaments, having proved to be consistent performers on the series in recent years.
French hopes of a men’s medal have also been boosted by Antoine Dupont’s decision to commit himself to the campaign from February, while test centurion Michael Hooper is bidding to win a place in the Australia squad.
"I will have to work a lot to be competitive in all the competitions," Dupont, who will be involved in SVNS 2024 in February and March before returning to Toulouse for the end of the 15s season, told the BBC last weekend.
"The last time (playing sevens) was under-18, I think, but it is the same sport and there are a lot of things similar.
"I will have to do my best. I have a lot of calls with the coach to try to learn some skills, and I will try to learn by watching the game.”
Australia won women’s gold at Rio 2016 and have started the season in fine form, ending reigning Olympic champions, the Black Ferns Sevens’ women’s record 41-match winning run to claim the Dubai title before holding off a French comeback in the Cape Town final.
Try-machine Maddison Levi has picked up where she left off in her record-breaking 2022 season and is hoping to help her country to a second Olympic gold medal.
"You can only peak once," Levi said. "We've had a bit of a trial peak and we'll go back to grinding hard and hopefully peak for the Olympics.
"We've just got to go back to the drawing board after two successful weekends.
"The hard work doesn't stop here."
The same could be said for every team and player currently training for SVNS, Olympic or Challenger Series glory in 2024.