Australia have set their sights on a first home gold medal since 2018 as they aim to maintain their 100 per cent start to the women’s HSBC SVNS 2024.
The hosts start the first-ever HSBC SVNS Perth event with a perfect 40 points from 40 following tournament victories in Dubai and Cape Town last month.
However, it is now six years since Australia scaled a series podium on home soil, current captain Charlotte Caslick scoring one of her side’s five tries in a 31-0 defeat of the Black Ferns Sevens in the HSBC Sydney Sevens 2018 final.
Australia’s bid for gold will begin at 15:28 local time (GMT+8) on Friday, when they take on South Africa in Pool A.
The Perth-fect time to go for a tour of this beautiful city! 🦘— HSBC SVNS (@SVNSSeries) January 19, 2024
Charlotte Caslick and Maddison Levi head out to find the perfect spots in preparation for @svns_per! 🇦🇺#HSBCSVNS | #HSBCSVNSPER | @WestAustralia pic.twitter.com/1p0y264YEg
Tim Walsh’s side will then play Great Britain and Canada, but they will do so without try machine Maddison Levi, who is ineligible for this weekend’s pool stage having been sent off in the Cape Town final.
That is a considerable blow for the hosts, given she has scored 21 tries already this season. But sister Teagan believes Australia’s potential Cup quarter-final opponents – if they get that far – should fear a rested Levi on Saturday.
“To be honest, I’d be scared for the other teams for Maddi to be fresh [for the quarter-finals]," Teagan said.
“She’s always a weapon out on the field whether she’s fresh or not so I think it’s really exciting to see her come back in the quarter-final.
“Hopefully we make it there and she’ll show what she’s got and why she’s the leading try scorer.”
Heidi Dennis could be a beneficiary of Maddison Levi’s absence, with the 18-year-old, added to the squad following Demi Hayes’ season-ending injury, in line to make her SVNS debut in Perth.
“She’s really powerful and also got some speed so it’ll be really exciting to see her hopefully debut this weekend,” Teagan Levi added.
Canada have enjoyed an encouraging start to HSBC SVNS 2024 and Jack Hanratty’s squad has been boosted by the return of Madison Grant and Breanne Nicholas ahead of Perth.
They will open their campaign at 15:05 local time on Friday against Great Britain, who will hope to build on eighth place in Cape Town and move up the standings.
South Africa, meanwhile, have welcomed Shona-Leah Weston back into their squad almost nine years since she last appeared on the series.
Weston’s most recent taste of the circuit came in Sao Paulo in February 2015, before an injury led to her retirement.
“For me, coming out of retirement to play for this team again, is such a positive experience and I cannot wait to take the field and bring that energy, composure, and experience,” she said this week.
Kochhann set for remarkable comeback
The inaugural HSBC SVNS Perth women’s tournament will get underway at 12:00 local time on Friday, when Fiji take on Brazil.
And the match will be significant for more than the Pool B points on offer as Brazil star Raquel Kochhann prepares to make her first series appearance for 20 months, following injury and treatment for cancer.
Two-time Olympian Kochhann was diagnosed with breast cancer while recovering from a serious knee injury in 2022 and subsequently underwent chemotherapy.
She did not stop training during that period, though, and with the cancer now dormant, Kochhann has been included in a Brazil squad determined to maintain their place in the top eight of the standings.
“In Dubai and South Africa we played well,” she said. “So, the expectation for here in Perth is to keep going with this improvement that we have been doing.
“For me personally, it’s just [to] be happy on the field and enjoy every time. And for the team, we keep playing together and showing to the world the Brazilian rugby.”
Tokyo bronze medallists Fiji have begun the 2024 season with back-to-back fifth-place finishes to leave them fourth in the standings.
Perth could prove a memorable tournament for the long-serving Ana Maria Naimasi, who needs only 12 points in Perth to reach 500 career series points.
France reached the final in Cape Town last month and currently sit second in the standings with 34 points from a possible 40 so far.
Les Bleues will hope they can finally end their wait for a first series tournament victory in Perth, their campaign starting against Spain at 12:22 local time on Friday.
Spain finished 12th and 11th in Dubai and Cape Town respectively, and they need an improved performance this weekend as they try to climb off the bottom of the standings.
Tyla back for Black Ferns Sevens
Tyla King (née Nathan-Wong) will make her first appearance of HSBC SVNS 2024 as New Zealand attempt to make it four wins in a row in Australia.
The Black Ferns Sevens won three consecutive titles in Sydney between 2019-23 and will be determined to win again in Perth as they attempt to kickstart their bid for an eighth series title.
World Rugby Women’s Sevens Player of the Year 2023 King will be integral to their hopes in Western Australia as the Black Ferns Sevens look to improve on second and third-place finishes in the opening two rounds.
First up for King and New Zealand is a date with Japan at 13:54 local time on Friday, before assignments against Ireland and USA round out their Pool C campaign.
Japan have won only one pool-stage match during the 2024 SVNS series so far and were beaten 35-7 by Ireland on the opening day in Dubai.
USA head coach Emilie Bydwell has been able to welcome back a quartet of players – Kristie Kirshe, Summer Harris-Jones, Steph Rovetti and Sarah Levy – for the trip to Perth.
Bydwell’s side made the Cup semi-finals in Cape Town, before being beaten by the Black Ferns Sevens in the bronze final.
“We are really looking forward to getting back into competition following the holiday reset. Dubai and Cape Town gave a great picture of the challenges coming our way this season,” she said.
“Our pool in Perth will challenge us in different ways. We will go one game at a time as we work to refine our process and ignite our strengths.”
Ireland, meanwhile, suffered narrow Cup quarter-final defeats in both Dubai and Cape Town at the end of last year and will be keen to show they can move up the standings from seventh.
That should make their opening encounter with USA (kick-off: 13:32 local time) a must-watch. It will certainly have a bearing on how both teams progress in Perth.
All action across the three days will be available on RugbyPass TV, where there is not a local broadcast deal in place.