Following nine months of pulsating action the destination of men’s HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2022 title will be decided in Los Angeles this weekend.
Argentina, Australia, Fiji and South Africa each head into the final tournament of the season with a shot at walking away as champions.
South Africa currently lead the standings with 124 points, two clear of Australia, with Argentina four points further adrift and back-to-back Olympic champions Fiji fourth on 104.
Thanks to the COVID-specific points system that applies to the current season, though, even fourth-placed Fiji have a real chance of securing the Series title in California.
Each team’s end of season total is calculated by taking their best seven results from across the year.
That means the Fijians would finish the season with 125 points were they to win the tournament in Los Angeles, a tally that would take them above South Africa were the Blitzboks to finish no higher than seventh.
For the teams outside of the top four there is still plenty to play for as those that have qualified attempt to find form ahead of Rugby World Cup Sevens 2022, which will take place in Cape Town between 9-11 September.
Powell not concerned by permutations
South Africa, who won the first four tournaments of 2022, head into the final event knowing exactly what they need to do to seal a fifth men’s title.
If the Blitzboks reach the final at Dignity Health Sports Park then none of the chasing pack will be able to catch them in the standings, regardless of the result in the showpiece match.
Although they have finished no higher than fifth in any Series tournament since January, South Africa will arrive in California full of confidence having beaten Fiji to win Commonwealth Games gold last month.
Neil Powell’s side have been handed a tough assignment in Los Angeles, being drawn to play the USA, New Zealand and Canada in Pool B.
The hard work will begin in their opening match, which pits them against the hosts, and they will know they need to make a good start if they are to win a first Series title since 2018.
If they are to become champions then they will have to do it without Selvyn Davids, Ronald Brown, Christie Grobbelaar and Mfundo Ndhlovo, who each picked up injuries at the Commonwealth Games.
Powell is confident his squad have what it takes to triumph, however, and insists he will not spend his weekend in Los Angeles with his head stuck in a calculator.
“We are not going to try and work out permutations, we would rather seal the deal by coming out on top in Los Angeles,” Powell said.
“The confidence and mood in the camp is good after the good results in Birmingham, but that is something in the past. We have a very tough pool and as usual, we will be looking to set a strong standard in our first game and work from there.”
Winning the tournament in Los Angeles would be another timely boost for the Blitzboks as South Africa prepares to host RWC Sevens 2022 in a fortnight.
Argentina and Australia target history
The pool stage is also likely to prove make or break for the chances of both Australia and Argentina, who line up alongside each other, and Japan and Spain, in Pool A.
The two teams chasing a first ever Series championship will meet in their second match of the tournament, at the end of day one in Los Angeles. Both will be eager to come out on top.
Australia were beaten by New Zealand in the Commonwealth Games bronze final at Coventry Stadium and coach John Manenti has freshened up his squad by bringing in Billy Meakes and James Turner.
If the Australians were able to win at Dignity Health Sports Park and secure a maiden title it would complete a triumphant double as the country’s women won the 2022 Series.
“The Aussie men have never won the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series – so this is a rare occasion for the squad," Manenti said.
“You never know how many chances you will get in your career to achieve something like this, so everyone is determined to really go out there and take the opportunity.
“On the back of the women’s success in winning the World Series, the men are motivated and keen to emulate their performance and make it a rare double for any sevens national teams.”
The 2022 Series has already been a momentous one for Argentina, having won their first tournament since 2009, in Vancouver, and they will be determined to end it as overall champions.
Like Fiji, they will need to win this weekend’s tournament and hope that other results go their way. Argentina have never previously won two tournaments in the same season.
Los Pumas will be without injured duo Tomás Elizalde and Valentín Soler Filloy while the experienced Felipe del Mestre was a late withdrawal ahead of Los Angeles.
Argentina warmed up for the final Series leg and RWC Sevens 2022 with a training camp at the Chula Vista Training Center in San Diego, and Matías Osadczuk believes the trip helped calm the squad ahead of the challenges to come.
“There are always nerves, but I think the best thing is to be together,” he said.
“We are very motivated. There is no better motivation than dreaming of being champion of a circuit or going to look for it and fight.
“The head is focused on each game, on trying to improve, we know that after Los Angeles comes the World Cup.
“In any case, the important thing for us is this [finale] of the circuit, it is something historic and we want to go look for it.”
Fiji welcome back Masi
By their own high standards, Fiji made a slow start to the 2022 Series as they finished fourth and eighth at the back-to-back tournaments in Dubai.
Fiji then missed the tournaments in Malaga and Seville but returned with a bang in Singapore, beating the All Blacks Sevens in the final.
Since then, they finished second in Vancouver, won in Toulouse and came third in London. It means that should they claim their third tournament victory in five attempts, they will have a chance of taking the Series title too.
Ben Gollings’ team have been drawn in Pool C and will get their campaign underway against Wales in Los Angeles.
France and Ireland provide their subsequent opposition and the Fijians will target three victories to give themselves as good a chance as possible of overhauling the teams ahead of them in the standings.
Gollings has welcomed Olympic gold medallist Iosefo Masi back into his squad for Los Angeles and RWC Sevens 2022 after he returned from rugby league. Joseva Talacolo is also back in the squad after injury.
“We are just looking [at] creating some opportunity as we then put our focus on the World Cup post Los Angeles Sevens,” Gollings said.
“It’s an exciting team, I’m looking forward to seeing it develop through the week of the LA Sevens.”