While most eyes will be on the titanic four-way struggle to win the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2022 title in Los Angeles, it is also a significant weekend for players of the ‘Home Nations’ – Wales, England and Scotland.
For many, the next two tournaments – the HSBC World Rugby Seven Series finale in Los Angeles and Rugby World Cup Sevens 2022 – could be the last time they ever pull on the red, white or blue jersey at a major global rugby sevens event.
All three teams will continue to compete at the Rugby World Cup Sevens, as long as they qualify, and the Commonwealth Games as a separate entity but from next season onwards, the best sevens talent in Wales, England and Scotland will be playing on the World Series under the Great Britain banner.
The decision, which aligns World Rugby’s Olympic participation status and qualification pathway, means there will be no team relegated from the men’s HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2022, as England, Scotland and Wales are replaced by a GB team,
With the Commonwealth Games having just been and gone and Rugby World Cup Sevens only a fortnight away, it could be four years before any of the players get to play on a global stage again for their countries.
Wales captain Luke Treharne will be 33 by then and he says he intends to enjoy every moment there is left in a Wales jersey.
“It is obviously quite big news in sevens with it going to GB, it’s the same for England and Scotland that this will be the last World Series for the foreseeable future. We’ll still play as Wales in Commonwealth Games, Rugby World Cup Sevens and in Rugby Europe tournaments so it is not the end but for it to be the final World Series one is quite a strange feeling,” he admitted.
“I kind of have mixed emotions round it. Every time you get to play for your country it is really, really special and I have done it for quite a while now.
“The way we’ve tried to frame it is that we have got two big tournaments left with Wales and just to try and go out and enjoy it.
“No one knows what is really going on with the GB set up and the main thing we wanted was for boys not to be worrying too much about that or what their next step is and making sure in these next two tournaments they are enjoying it and are relaxed and taking in the moment,” he continued.
“I am hoping then we will get the most out of the boys and the team in these tournaments. If Wales don’t play on the World Series again, they will be special ones to be a part of.”
In any other season, Wales would be heading to LA with the threat of relegation from the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series hanging over them.
Richie Pugh’s team are second-from-bottom in the standings and only five points above Japan, who currently occupy 16th place, having failed to reach the Cup knockout stages in any of the previous eight tournaments.
“It’s been a bit hit and miss this season,” said Treharne. “We have strung some phases together in games but we haven’t quite finished out as many games as we’ve needed to so we have been at the wrong end of the table.
“A couple of times we have played Fiji and played well against them and pushed them. I thought in Vancouver we played some really good rugby, especially against Ireland in that last game where we just missed out. They had been competing right at the top of the World Series all season so for us to be right in it until the last play or two was kind of showing the level of rugby we are playing.
“Another positive is that we have brought a lot more new players in, got them playing sevens and got them to improve their game and when they go back to their regions they will be all the better for it.”
Better and better
With Wales’ World Series adventure coming to an end in Los Angeles, Treharne will be left three short of 50 World Series tournaments for his country, although he did reach his overall half-century – counting Great Britain appearances – in the last round in London.
Only Adam Thomas has made more World Series appearances than him for Wales so Treharne is in a good position to assess how the World Series has evolved since he made his debut on the Gold Coast in 2014.
“It just shows the level and the standard of the World Series with where we are with Wales, it is so high, and every year it has got better and better, and every team is ultra-competitive,” he said.
“It'll be really interesting to see what happens at the weekend (with the title race between South Africa, Australia, Argentina and Fiji), I think it’ll be great for the sport. It’s come down to the last weekend which hasn’t always been the case in the past. It’s a great storyline.”
Whatever happens in Los Angeles, Treharne and Wales will get another chance to shine at a major event in Cape Town on 9-11 September, at Rugby World Cup Sevens 2022.
Wales have been drawn against Korea in the pre-Round of 16 fixtures with the winner taking on Fiji, an opponent Wales know all too well.
“We are also playing them in the first game in LA as well,” he reminded us. “We had a good game against them in the Commonwealth Games (a 38-24 defeat) and managed to score quite a few tries against, I think bar South Africa in the final, we scored the most points against them.
“They are a really fun team to play against, they really challenge you in terms of how they play which is very different to a lot of other teams. But it always seems to be a challenge we get up for and play some of our best rugby.”
Wales have a proud Rugby World Cup Sevens history having defied all the odds to win the title in 2009, with head coach Pugh a member of the triumphant team.
“I love hearing about it to be honest,” he said. “It is one of the main things that gets pulled up about Wales Sevens as it is the highest level tournament we’ve won. I just like that Wales have won it and it is something to aim towards, knowing that it can be done.
“At a World Cup, you need to be firing in every game, there are no second chances like in other tournaments with a group stage format, you need to win every single game to win the World Cup, and with sevens anything can go right or wrong with a bounce of the ball, or one missed tackle or a wrong decision. It could favour an underdog, a team with not a lot of pressure on them.”
Treharne experienced the Rugby World Cup Sevens at first-hand in San Francisco in 2018 and is confident that Cape Town will be just as amazing.
“Playing in the World Cup is incredible. Like with the San Francisco tournament, they are often somewhere a little bit different. When that’s the case you always have a little bit of concern about what the set up and the facilities are going to be like but the San Fran tournament was incredible, playing in a baseball stadium was really, really cool.
“I am fully aware that coming to Cape Town, it (South Africa) is a country that is mad about rugby and any time I’ve played in a World Series tournament there, it has been incredible, and with it being a World Cup, I’m sure it will go up another level. South Africa go into it off the back of the Commonwealth Games and are firing and it’s set up to be a great tournament and a brilliant showcase for sevens.”