Reigning World Rugby Men’s Sevens Player of the Year, Rodrigo Isgró, is set for his first appearance of HSBC SVNS 2024 in Perth this weekend to further boost Argentina’s claims of a second tournament title.
Los Pumas Sevens cannot have fared much better in his absence, reaching the Dubai final and then going one better in Cape Town, to take command of the standings as the competition moves on to Western Australian.
Two tournaments into the eight that make up the event, Los Pumas have picked up 38 points and hold an eight-point lead over South Africa, who beat them in the Dubai final, and Fiji. New Zealand, Ireland and Australia are not far behind in the chasing pack.
Argentina and South Africa have been paired together in Pool A along with a dangerous Canada outfit and Spain.
Isgró, who played in all 66 matches in last year’s World Series, replaces the injured Alejo Lavayén (torn ligaments).
The 23-year-old returns to sevens duty after making one appearance at men’s Rugby World Cup 2023, scoring on his tournament debut against Chile.
Meanwhile, it could also be a significant weekend for last season’s captain, Gaston Revol, who is just 10 points away from scoring 1,000 for his country.
Key playmaker returns for title-chasing Blitzboks
South Africa begin their campaign against Canada in the first match of the tournament and, they too, welcome back one of the stars of last season’s series in HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series Rookie of the Year, Ricardo Duarttee.
The diminutive 25-year-old hasn’t featured since London in May last year with a fit-again Selvyn Davids and Ronald Brown chosen in the playmaker role in Dubai and Cape Town.
“It is massive to be back,” said Duarttee, one of the smallest players in the competition at 1.72m tall.
“It was not nice missing out as I wanted to be part of another full season, but I understand why the coaches opted for a different combination.”
Donovan Don is named as the other playmaker, while two-time World Series champion James Murphy is also back for the first time since London having recovered from illness and injury.
Uncapped pair, Tristan Leyds and David Brits, are in line to experience SVNS for the first time.
After a 12th-place finish in the opening round of the series in Dubai, Canada’s men’s sevens team rallied together in Cape Town to beat New Zealand and Samoa in pool play, later rebounding from a quarter-final loss with a victory over France to claim seventh place. The team currently sits ninth overall in the standings.
Canada’s squad for Perth includes 12 players who competed in Cape Town, including team leading try-scorers Lockie Kratz and Jack Carson (five tries apiece).
Ethan Hager is set to make his HSBC SVNS Series debut, having made his first international appearance last August at the Paris 2024 Olympic Qualifier in Langford.
Spain are bottom of the HSBC SVNS standings, but are only five competition points away from the safety of eighth place.
They have made four changes to their squad with Miguel Reina, Ángel Bozal, Álvaro Gassot and Juan Martínez replaced by Álex Laforga, Tobías Sainz-Trápaga, Asier Pérez and Paco Cosculluela.
Los Leones Sevens haven’t beaten any of their pool opponents for a number of years and have failed to score a point against South Africa in Australia in over a decade.
Australia hope to make home advantage count
Australia, who head up Pool B, will be hoping that a change of venue to HBF Park, the home of the Western Force Super Rugby team, will see a reversal in fortunes as hosts.
This will be the 19th HSBC SVNS event to be held in Australia, with Perth becoming the fifth different location after Brisbane, Adelaide, Gold Coast and Sydney.
It has been six years since Australia last played a Cup final on home soil, defeating South Africa 29-0 in the 2018 Cup final at Allianz Stadium.
However, they go into the tournament high on confidence after reaching the final in Cape Town and Nick Malouf can’t wait to sample the atmosphere.
"It's been about four years since I was lucky enough to play on home soil," admits Malouf, the most experienced player in Australia’s squad with 55 tournaments behind him.
"It's going to be a great atmosphere this weekend. We're looking forward to a lot of support in the crowd and I'm just excited to get out there."
John Manenti's side has been boosted by the return of trio Henry Hutchison, Matt Gonzalez and Darby Lancaster.
Hutchison has not featured since succumbing to an ACL injury almost 12 months ago in Sydney, with Gonzalez picking up a rib injury in the opening round in Dubai.
Meanwhile, Lancaster has been cleared by the Melbourne Rebels to play in the event.
Squads confirmed for Perth 🚨— GB Rugby Sevens (@GBRugbySevens) January 24, 2024
🎉 Abi Burton returning to the World Series for the first time since Toulouse 2022
🔙 Alicia Maude returning from injury
✅ Jamie Adamson joins the squad
Watch live at https://t.co/5M9leICI1I#GB7s | #HSBCSVNS | #HSBCSVNSPER | #RoadToParis pic.twitter.com/9BKBbDEbDh
Ireland, Great Britain and USA make up the remainder of a pool that looks to be wide open.
USA dropped into the relegation zone following an 11th-place finish in Cape Town, falling from the safety of eighth on the HSBC SVNS standings into 10th.
But Mike Friday is able to call upon the experience of captain Kevon Williams, Joe Schroeder, Stephen Tomasin and Perry Baker for the first time this season.
“It is a huge boost to have the entire squad to select from following the player load decisions we had to contend with at the back end of 2023. The senior boys are well rested and excited for the challenge ahead in Perth,” said Friday.
Fans will have to wait until the second day in Perth before the age-old rivalry between Fiji and New Zealand resumes but that’s not to say the rest of the match-ups in Pool C are any less enticing.
New Zealand aim to go back-to-back for first time in Oz
The All Blacks Sevens are the reigning champions in Australia and they begin their title defence against France, while Fiji open up against Samoa in an all-Pacific encounter that is never for the faint-hearted.
New Zealand, who are unbeaten in six previous meetings against France in Australia won last season in Sydney despite finishing second in their pool.
But they will be looking to get off to a flying start against Les Bleus Sevens and become the first team in SVNS history to win 50 matches in Australia.
Dylan Collier returns from injury to captain the All Blacks Sevens, whose squad contains further experience in the form of Tim Mikkelson, Scott Curry, Regan Ware and Sione Molia.
Among the Flying Fijian 13, inspiring youngster Ropate Rere will be making his HSBC SVNS debut.
Rere, 24, has been turning heads in local tournaments and will finally get his chance in the national jersey.
“I am pleased with Ropate’s performance; he gives his all in game time and training, and I can’t wait to see what he does on the world stage,” said head coach Ben Gollings.
Adding to the squad’s strength is the return of Olympian Waisea Nacuqu, who is back in action after recovering from an injury sustained during his last appearance at the Oceania Sevens.
Nacuqu is geared up for his first outing on the SVNS circuit, while rangy forward Ponipate Loganimasi is another notable inclusion.
Fiji are the most successful team in Australia with six Cup titles, however they have lifted the trophy just once across the past six tournaments.
Past history suggest they will get off to a winning start against Samoa as 16 of the 17 previous meetings have gone their way, although they had to overturn a five-point half-time deficit to come out on top, 24-19, in last season’s Singapore bronze final.
Samoa welcome back Uaina Sione and Neueli Leitufia from long-term injuries, while Tom Maiava, from the Marist St Joseph’s club, who was a real livewire during the Pacific Games, is set for his SVNS debut.
All action across the three days will be available on RugbyPass TV, where there is not a local broadcast deal in place.