Hugo Keenan has a chance to win both the HSBC SVNS 2024 and the Men’s Six Nations titles a few months apart after being named in Ireland’s squad for this weekend’s winners-takes-all Madrid Grand Final.

Keenan will have the number eight on his back instead of his customary 15 for Ireland and Leinster as he begins his bid to make the Olympic Games Paris 2024.

The multi-decorated Dubliner, who turns 28 in a few weeks’ time, has joined other stars of the 15s game such as Antoine Dupont and Michael Hooper in swapping formats and Ireland coach James Topping has wasted no time in selecting him in a squad full of confidence after their best finish on a world series.

Keenan is no stranger to sevens having between an integral part of the Ireland set-up between 2017 and 2019, when the team was at the start of its journey in becoming one of the best sides in the world.

Having helped the team to gain core world series status in 2019, Keenan then focused his attention on 15s and has established himself as one of the best full-backs of his generation in a 39-test career.

Now, SVNS silverware is on the line as Ireland look to go one better than the regular season when they narrowly lost out to Argentina in the race to be crowned League Winners. Argentina finished on top of the SVNS 2024 standings on 106 points, just two ahead of Ireland in second.

Following seven scintillating regular season rounds Argentina and Ireland are two of eight teams who remain in the hunt for the Championship title at this weekend’s finale at Estadio Cívitas Metropolitano.

Alongside the competition for the overall series crown, a further eight teams – the bottom four SVNS teams and the top four World Rugby HSBC Sevens Challenger teams – have arrived in the Spanish capital bidding to secure their place in next season’s series via the HSBC SVNS Play-off tournament.

It means every team has something to play for, and every point matters. Keenan is no pressure to such high-pressure situations and winning in Madrid would be the perfect antidote to the disappointment of Leinster’s defeat to Toulouse in last weekend’s European Champions Cup final.

Keenan isn’t the only change to the squad that came desperately close to winning in Singapore earlier this month, having been beaten 17-14 by New Zealand in the final.

Harry McNulty once again captains a squad showing six changes, including a first appearance of the series for Andrew Smith.

All Blacks Sevens have sights set on 15th title

Standing between the League Winners and a place in the semi-finals in Madrid are Pool B rivals New Zealand, Fiji and South Africa – all previous world series champions.

Gold medallists in Singapore, New Zealand will be hoping to inject further momentum into their season ahead of a third consecutive Olympic Games appearance in Paris.

The All Blacks Sevens welcome the return of Akuila Rokolisoa, who missed the last three tournaments through injury, and add experience with the return of Scott Curry, Sam Dickson and Joe Webber.

Head coach Tomasi Cama said the team is motivated by the opportunity to win their 15th world series title.

“The last couple of tournaments have been good, we felt like we got our flow going – even with the squads changing a bit. We’ve really narrowed down our focus on our game to make sure the players are clear on their jobs and ready to go game one against Fiji.”

New Zealand and Fiji (kick-off 14:14 local time, GMT+2) can’t be separated in the head-to-head standings with 59 series wins apiece.

After that blockbusting start to the Grand Final, Ireland take on South Africa.

South Africa have fond memories of playing in Spain having both two Olympic warm-up tournaments before going on to win the 2021 world series title later in the year.

Victory would be a special way for Ryan Oosthuizen to mark his 50th series tournament for the Blitzboks at this level.

His return to the squad – in place of Zain Davids – is the only change among the forwards, while interim head coach Philip Snyman tweaked the backs as Justin Geduld comes in the injured Dewald Human and Shaun Williams for the suspended Shilton van Wyk. Geduld will run out in his 60th series tournament for the Blitzboks.

“It is great to have Ryan back amongst the pack and Shaun and Justin will bring their own magic to the tournament, so it is an exciting and capable squad,” said Snyman.

Tuwai back to boost under-performing Fiji

One man who needs no introduction is Jerry Tuwai. The double Olympic gold medal winner has been recalled to the Fiji squad by head coach Osea Kolinisau having been left out previously on fitness grounds.

Tuwai has been stuck on 63 world series tournament appearances for the last 12 months, having not played since London in May 2023.

Kolinisau, who led Fiji to Olympic glory at Rio 2016, believes winning in Madrid will have massive benefits when it comes to defending their Olympic crown in Paris.

“Our goal when we go to tournaments is to win, so I told the boys we want to win in Madrid because it’s the last tournament before the Olympics,” Kolinisau said.

“If we win that we will get the mental edge towards the Olympics. That’s the focus right now. I told the boys that we need to go and work hard, and to win this because if we do so we get the mental edge over the eight possible quarter-finalists come Olympics.”

League Winners Argentina limped over the line having not made the podium in the final three rounds, with two fifth-place finishes and a ninth following their win in Vancouver.

The loss of Marcos Moneta to a broken leg has derailed their season to an extent but a win in Madrid will set them up nicely for the Olympics at the end of July – coach Santiago Gómez Cora’s main goal.

“Paris is the big goal of these last four years, even if winning the season was the big dream or hope. Our planning was done with the Games in mind from the fitness, tactics, scores,” he said.

The format of the Grand Final leaves little margin for error but Gómez Cora says his team perform best when their backs are against the wall.

“The format in Madrid is brutal, to a very hard standard. But it suits Argentina,” he added.

“Bear in mind that when the series went from 16 to 12, our alarms rang as we were unsure if we would be able to cope. But it was better for us, even if I was doubtful, because unconsciously, Argentina against lower-ranked teams are not 100 per cent there in terms of their spirit.

“Now it will be even harder, a huge challenge. The bigger the challenge, we like them more.”

Los Pumas Sevens have a long wait before getting their Pool A campaign underway against Great Britain (kick-off 19:28 local time). German Schulz makes his 70th tournament appearance in an unchanged squad.

It will also be a landmark weekend for Great Britain captain Robbie Fergusson as the 30-year-old will be playing in his 50th series tournament.

Before Argentina play Great Britain for the sixth time in pool play this series, Australia take on France without the inured Michael Hooper.

The Wallabies legend sits this one out with a niggling injury, while Teddy Wilson remains on the sidelines with concussion.

Matt Gonzalez and Josh Turner return from injury, while Dally Bird and Tim Clements come into the squad.

"We head into the world series final excited about the new format and our first trip to Madrid," Australia coach John Manenti said. "The team has prepared well and are keen to have a crack at the best teams on the circuit.”

Australia have the upper hand over France in the head-to-head stakes, having won 40 of the previous 57 meetings. However, Les Bleus Sevens welcome back Antoine Dupont from a starring role in Toulouse’s Champions Cup win against Leinster.

Dupont is one of several changes to a France squad that, ultimately, wants to go on and win the Olympics on home soil. France’s most experienced player, Jonathan Laugel, is a notable absentee, though.

HSBC SVNS 2025 tickets up for grabs

World Rugby HSBC Sevens Challenger champions Uruguay have the honour of playing in the opening game of the men’s HSBC SVNS Play-off tournament – against Canada (kick-off 12:44 local time).

Los Teros Sevens are one of eight teams competing in Madrid for one of four available places on HSBC SVNS 2025 and head to Spain in good form, having won two of three tournaments that make up the Challenger.

A first-ever win over Canada at the 12th attempt would set up their promotion bid nicely.

Canada struggled throughout the SVNS 2024 campaign, finishing bottom of the standings having only made it to the Cup quarter-finals once, in round two in Cape Town

Nevertheless, head coach Sean White was in defiant mood ahead of the tournament.

“There’s no hiding from the challenges this group has faced over the season, and no excuses will be made for where we currently stand,” he said.

“Our goal remains simple, go into Madrid in the top 12 and leave in the top 12.

“We’re confident that the sacrifices and commitment the players have put in over these past few months and the lessons we’ve learned throughout the season will be part of our success in Madrid.

“We’re marching towards the pressure shields up and spears out.”

Canada’s hopes of staying at the elite end of the global game have been boosted by the return of Cooper Coats, Jack Carson, Matthew Percillier and Cody Nhanala.

Uruguay have one world series debutant in their ranks in Peñarol winger Dante Soto.

Completing Pool A are USA and Germany, who were pipped to the Munich Challenger title by Uruguay.

Makonnen Amekuedi made a huge impact for Germany in that tournament and is one of three debutants in the Wolfpack line-up. Max Heid and Luis Diel also experience world series rugby for the first time.

USA determined to get the job done

As world series regulars, USA have far more experience in their squad – Stephen Tomasin and Madison Hughes will be playing in their 60th tournaments – but will that count for anything this weekend?

Head coach Mike Friday believes his team are up for the fight.

“To say we are disappointed to be in this relegation competition is a huge understatement but that is the reality of where we find ourselves as a pack after the topsy turvy world of sevens and how this format works itself out.

“The four winners of the qualifier games gain entry into the 2025 SVNS, while the four losers have to qualify for the Challenger Series through their regional competition, so the consequences are very high indeed.

“Our squad is balanced with some real physicality to add to the power and speed normally associated with us. I am pleased with our focus and drive of the squad these last couple of weeks and we have no interest in looking back and are only concentrating on what is to come.

“We will have done our preparation on each of the teams we are to face and we understand what is required by us to be successful in this format. The boys just want to get in the trenches and get on with the job.”

Spain and Samoa, who were ranked 10th and 11th after the seven regular rounds of SVNS 2024, have been drawn in Pool A with Challenger runners-up Kenya and the team in third, Chile.

Try-scoring machine Vaa Apelu Maliko (86 tries in 23 previous world series events) is back to bolster Samoa.

Additionally, Motu Opetai, Taunuu Niulevaea and Neueli Leitufia have all recovered from injuries sustained in Hong Kong.

Samoa begin their Pool B campaign on Friday against Kenya (kick-off 17:25 local time).

Kenya have been preparing for the tournament at a 10-day training camp in Miramas, France.

The Shujaa line-up includes six world series debutants alongside experienced individuals such as Herman Humwa.

"This is what we have been preparing for, for the entire season,” said Shujaa assistant coach Louis Kisia.

“The boys are in high spirits. We had a good session in France where we looked at everything from attack, defence and set-piece to basic core skills.

"Our mantra the entire season has been to take one game at a time. It's going to be a long weekend. There will be ups and downs but the boys have trained hard all season.”

Spain have a 4-0 win record against their opening opponents, Chile, who like Kenya, include six players experiencing rugby at this level for the first time.

See the HSBC SVNS champions crowned in Madrid, 31 May-2 June. Tickets from €10 are available to purchase here