Today marks the dawn of a new era for rugby sevens as the captains competing in the first of a record six combined men’s and women’s events on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2020 came together in Dubai to officially launch the tournament.
Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, the Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens takes place on 5-7 December and will bring together 28 teams from across the globe for three days of non-stop rugby sevens.
Dubai kicks off the men’s competition for the 2020 series and is the second tournament for the women after their season opener in Glendale, Colorado, in October where the hosts USA were victorious.
As well as 2020 being a record-breaker for the world series with the number of women’s tournaments increasing to eight and the men’s again being contested across 10, it is also an Olympic season with the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games taking place next July.
Rugby sevens will be represented at the Games for a second time at the Tokyo Stadium from 27 July-1 August.
Eleven men’s and 10 women’s teams have qualified for Tokyo 2020 so far with last season’s world series acting as the principal route for qualification with the top four teams in the men’s and women’s competitions automatically qualifying. Only three places remain to be confirmed – one men’s and two women’s – with the global repechage tournament in June next year determining which teams will occupy the final spots.
ENJOYING THE JOURNEY
New Zealand go into Dubai as the title holders and series champions and were the first women's team to secure Olympic qualification last season. Tyla Nathan-Wong, their captain in Dubai in the absence of the injured Sarah Hirini, is relishing the challenge ahead.
"I think momentum is important. Obviously the big goal for everyone is the Olympics next year but you've got to take it tournament by tournament and appreciate and enjoy those milestones along the way. For us that's what we're looking forward to – enjoying the journey first, experiencing each tournament and then we'll eventually get to Tokyo," she said.
In a first for the Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens, all 64 men’s and women’s games will be played on the main pitch, and as the new core men's team on the circuit after winning the qualifier in Hong Kong, Ireland's captain Billy Dardis says his team are excited about the upcoming season.
"It's massive for us as a group and for Irish rugby. We've been building up to this over the past four or five years – a lot of hard work has gone in and it all comes up to now. We're looking forward to getting out onto the pitch and to getting stuck into USA on Thursday night."
Olympic gold medallists and reigning world series champions, Fiji will be looking to replicate their success this season.
"We love what we do, we know it's tough and it will be tougher than last year. When you are world champions it is very hard to stay at that level, but it's a good challenge for the boys," said captain Paula Dranisinukula.
The action gets underway at 14:50 local time on Thursday with Spain and Ireland the first teams to take to the field with Australia and Fiji completing the line-up in Pool B of the women’s competition.
USA, new core team Brazil, Canada and Russia feature in Pool A, with defending champions New Zealand, England, France and invitational side Japan making up Pool C.
In the men’s competition, Samoa and Canada will get the proceedings underway at 17:06 after the first round of women’s pool games on day one. They will be joined by defending Dubai champions New Zealand and Wales in Pool C, while Australia, Scotland, 2019 runners-up USA and Ireland are drawn in Pool B.
Fiji will face France, Argentina and invitational outfit Japan in Pool A, with England, Spain, South Africa and Kenya lining up in Pool D.
Follow all the action on @WorldRugby7s on social and visit www.world.rugby/sevens-series for more information.