The captains of the 16 teams competing at the HSBC London Sevens came together at the iconic Kensington Palace in central London today ahead of the penultimate round of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series.
The top four teams in this season’s HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series will qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and there’s a chance that fans could see four teams secure their spot at Twickenham Stadium on 25 and 26 May.
Should any of the top teams finish the London event with a margin of 22 or more points ahead of the fifth placed team in the standings – currently England – they will have achieved Olympic qualification for Tokyo 2020 with one round to spare.
USA currently sit top of the table having earned a place on the medal podium in seven of the eight tournaments so far this season.
On their top form this season USA captain Madison Hughes commented: “We’re not really looking at is as pressure but more as an opportunity, and an opportunity that we have earned over the course of the season through consistent results and through performing well.
“Now here we are in London with two tournaments to go. Before this season I think you would have said it was a dream so we’re just going to do everything we can to perform in each game and do the best that we can this weekend.”
After a second place finish in Singapore, Fiji sit just three points below USA in the current standings and will be looking to replicate their performance in London last year where they defeated South Africa in a thrilling Cup final.
New Zealand and South Africa occupy third and fourth place respectively with just nine points between them, and after their gold medal finish in Singapore, South Africa will undoubtedly be buoyant for London this weekend.
Hosts England will be without their captain Tom Mitchell this weekend with rugby sevens veteran Phil Burgess taking on the leadership role in his absence in what will be his 50th World Series appearance for his country.
“I think we had a really good focus coming off the back of Singapore that we were going to look at London and just give it everything. Playing in an England shirt at Twickenham, I don’t think you can get much better than that, and it was a case of we wanted to go out and make ourselves proud, make the fans proud, any hopefully the by product of that will be the results that we want.”
As well as the fight for Olympic qualification, the teams at the bottom of the table will battle it out to avoid relegation with only two tournaments remaining this season. Only four points separate Kenya, Wales and Japan in the bottom three so there is everything to play for in London.
The relegated team will be replaced by invitational team Ireland who secured core team status for the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2020 by winning the qualifier event in Hong Kong in April.
After defeating England in the bronze medal final at Twickenham last year, Ireland will be looking for another podium finish this weekend with captain Billy Dardis commenting: “Last year in London was brilliant – we caught a few teams on the hop and no one really expected it and we got lucky with a few good results in what turned out to be a great weekend. We have good memories from last year.
“Obviously getting onto the world series next season is great for the whole programme but it’s important to acknowledge that we’re still an invitational side and we’ve got a lot of work to do this weekend as we’ve got a hard group. We’re excited and we’re building towards the Olympic qualifiers in July so these are an important two weeks for us."
The pool draw for London will see Singapore winners South Africa take on Japan, Argentina and Canada in Pool A. In Pool B, second placed Fiji will face Kenya, Samoa and France. Hosts England will battle it out against Ireland, Scotland and New Zealand in Pool C while 2019 series leaders USA will be looking to continue their impressive form against Spain, Australia and Wales in Pool D.
The action gets underway at Twickenham Stadium at 09:30 local time on Saturday with Australia taking on Wales in the first of the pool games.
Tickets for the HSBC London Sevens on May 25-26 are still available from £30 for adults and £10 for juniors. For more information and to book tickets, visit www.englandrugby.com/tickets