Picking up from where it left off in March 2020, the eagerly-awaited HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series returns to Vancouver this weekend.
Vancouver was the last tournament to be staged before COVID-19 struck and led to the rest of the Series being cancelled. Eighteen months have felt like an eternity but, finally, the World Series show is on the road again.
The 2021 season will now consist of only Vancouver and Edmonton events with an overall Series winner to be crowned in Edmonton. Both tournaments feature 12 teams split into three pools in a format similar to the Tokyo Olympics, with a women’s Fast Four competition taking place at the same time.
The HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2022 officially kicks off in Dubai with back-to-back men’s and women’s events on 26-27 November and 3-4 December of this year. Additional rounds will be announced in due course.
While the impact of the global pandemic is still being felt, extraordinary lengths have been taken by the organisers to stage the HSBC Canada Sevens and bring the excitement and razzmatazz of rugby sevens back to the bustling seaport in British Columbia.
Fans lapped up the action in 2019, 39,533 of them packing into BC Place on day one to form the largest crowd in Canadian rugby history. And with the World Series on hold for so long, the wait will have only added to the sense of anticipation ahead of this year’s event, which is open to vaccinated fans.
Are you ready to party, Vancouver? ✨ Get inspired with some of our favourite fancy dress shots from previous years!— HSBC Canada Sevens (@CanadaSevens) September 16, 2021
The party starts this Saturday at 9:00am PT. Gates open at 8:15am!
Tickets 🎟 https://t.co/XVRr457Ebl#HSBC7s | #Canada7s pic.twitter.com/edLkxdbFrC
While a number of core World Series teams are unable to participate in Canada due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, the line-up is still one of exceptional quality and affords potential stars of the future the opportunity to play alongside Olympians and show what they are about at the highest level.
Last year’s Vancouver finalists, New Zealand and Australia, are two of the absentees, but the two other teams involved in the medal matches, South Africa and Canada will be there to play for precious World Series points.
For 2020 bronze medallists and hosts Canada it is something of a new dawn as they’ll go into the sixth edition of the Canada Sevens without four of their stalwarts in Nathan Hirayama, Conor Trainor, Justin Douglas and Connor Braid, who all decided to retire post-Tokyo after more than 200 World Series tournaments between them.
That leaves local hero Phil Berna as Canada’s most experienced player with 26 Series tournaments to his name.
Berna is joined in his home city by fellow Olympians Jake Thiel and Andrew Coe in Henry Paul’s otherwise youthful-looking squad. Josiah Morra is the only other players with World Series experience.
USA join Canada in Pool C, along with invitation teams Germany and Chile.
Five players – two-time Olympian Martin Iosefo and Tokyo 2020 Olympians Matai Leuta, Cody Melphy, Joe Schroeder and Kevon Williams – bring Olympics experience to Mike Friday’s USA squad.
Tokyo travelling reserve, Malacchi Esdale, is one of seven uncapped players, as is US Eagles 15s international Christian Dyer.
Germany have been aiming for core status on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series for years, coming agonisingly close to promotion on several occasions.
Damian McGrath’s side will no doubt keep knocking on the door and a good performance in Vancouver will encourage them that it is only a matter of time before they join the elite of the game on the World Series.
“The fact that our boys have now been invited to several tournaments in the World Series is highly deserved as a result of the hard work of the past 10 years and is long overdue," said DRV board member competitive sports Manuel Wilhelm.
“We are very happy that World Rugby recognises the constant development of our team in such a way. And I am convinced that our boys will now represent German rugby in Canada in a dignified manner and that this will only be the prelude to numerous other tournaments and experiences at this level.”
Experienced playmaker Fabian Heimpel, from RG Heidelberg, misses out on Vancouver and Edmonton as he is getting married. But other veterans of Germany’s qualification near-misses, such as Tim Lichtenberg, have boarded the plane to Canada.
With 12 tournaments under their belt, Chile have more than double the experience of Germany on the World Series.
The 13-man squad includes a mix of established names and several newcomers and is captained by 26-year-old Joaquín Huici.
Former Los Condores skipper Felipe Brangier is another name to catch the eye, while Leinster Academy fly-half Sebastian Berti comes with a good pedigree.
🏟 "With that home crowd in Vancouver, can they make it count?"— World Rugby Sevens (@WorldRugby7s) September 16, 2021
🇨🇦 @robvickerman is expecting BIG things from @RugbyCanada in the opening weekend of 2021 sevens series action @Capgemini | #GetTheFutureYouWant pic.twitter.com/V9Eby0ymTA
South Africa, the 2019 champions in Vancouver, are using the opportunity to blood some new recruits in a mixed squad of youth and experience.
Coach Neil Powell has named four World Series newcomers in his 13-man squad in Ronald Brown, Darren Adonis and Shaun Williams, while Christie Grobbelaar, who has previous experience as a travelling reserve, is set to make his Blitzboks debut.
The Blitzboks will be captained as usual by Siviwe Soyizwapi, one of the side’s six-strong Olympics contingent. Sako Makata, Zain Davids, Angelo Davids, JC Pretorius and Brown were also part of the Tokyo squad, where South African finished fifth.
South Africa are joined in Pool A by Africa’s other representatives, Kenya, who also have fond memories of Vancouver having reached a rare Cup final there in 2018, only to lose out on the gold medal to Fiji.
Nelson Oyoo takes over the captaincy from the now-retired Andrew Amonde in another squad that blends the old with the new.
Spain’s squad draws heavily on the side that won the Rugby Europe Sevens Championship Series earlier this year.
Rio 2016 Olympian Pol Pla has 45 World Series tournament appearances to his name but other than Juan Martinez, none of the rest reach double figures.
Mexico are a late addition to the tournament following the withdrawal of France and will play their first World Series event since Hong Kong in 2011.
Debuts for GB and Jamaica
Great Britain will feature on the World Series for the first time and will be expected to compete for top spot in Pool B with Ireland, although invitation teams Hong Kong and Jamaica’s chances cannot be written off.
Tony Roques squad features five Olympians in Tom Bowen, Alex Davis, Robbie Fergusson, Ross McCann and Max McFarland
Bryan Mollen will captain Ireland in Vancouver and Edmonton and is joined in Canada by Olympic team-mates, Mark Roche and Gavin Mullin.
Leinster’s Liam Turner, who played 16 games on the 2020 Series, and Seán Cribbin also add experience to the squad.
While Hong Kong will be competing in their 30th World Series tournament, Vancouver will be Jamaica’s first.
Captain Conan Osborne and Oshane Eddie are both approaching 100 games for the Crocs and will give valued on-field leadership and guidance to rookies such as cross-coder Ben Jones-Bishop.
Jones-Bishop is living proof of the old adage that as one door closes another opens. The winger was due to play for Jamaica in the Rugby League World Cup but the tournament has been suspended for a year, allowing him to take up this opportunity in Canada.
Points will be allocated on a sliding scale at the Vancouver and Edmonton tournaments, from 20 for the winner down to one for the 12th-place team.
Women’s sevens is back, four real!
The women’s Fast Four tournament involves Canada, USA, Great Britain and Mexico. The six pool matches will be followed by two semi-finals, a third-place play-off and a Cup final.
Rugby World Cup veteran Kelly Russell will coach the Canadian women’s squad, which is again a mix of youth and experience. Olivia Apps is the only player selected from the Tokyo Olympics squad.
Director of Women’s High Performance Emilie Bydwell will coach USA in Vancouver following Chris Brown’s decision to step down from the role last month. While Kayla Canett and Nia Tolver bring Olympic experience to the group, the tournament has given Bydwell the chance to test the strength in depth of the player pool.
Lauren Thunen and Steph Rovetti return to the senior national team for the first time since Glendale 2019 and Sydney 2020 respectively, while highly-rated Emily Fullbrook earns her first selection. Meanwhile, Sarah Levy crosses over from the 15s programme to try her hand at international sevens.
“Our goal is to allow each player to express their individual playing identity, while also being as threatening as possible as a unit. I think the USA Rugby community will be excited to watch this team grow together and see many of our future sevens stars begin their journey with the senior women’s sevens team,” said Bydwell.
Six members of the England-dominated Great Britain squad appeared at Tokyo 2020 as Abbie Brown and Megan Jones once again co-captain the group.
Among the Olympic contingent is Welsh flyer, Jasmine Joyce. Joyce scored seven tries in Tokyo and will be one of the players to watch over the next fortnight.
Six of the Mexico squad that competed at the World Rugby Sevens Repechage in June get a chance to impress in Vancouver, including captain Jennifer Salomón.
Las Serpenties Sevens lost all three games in Monaco but ran Samoa close in their final game, losing 20-17. Vanessa Rodríguez and Alessandra Bender were among the try-scorers that day and they return along with Salomón, Rosa Rivera and Daniela Rosales.
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