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Dubai will host the first dual event of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2023 this weekend, as the women’s season gets underway at The Sevens Stadium.
Following victory for their men in Hong Kong at the beginning of November, Australia arrive at the Emirates Dubai 7s as the team to beat in both tournaments.
Australia’s women completed a clean sweep of Series, Commonwealth Games and Rugby World Cup Sevens 2022 titles earlier this year and will want to maintain their dominance heading into 2023.
The women’s Series features a record seven rounds, at the end of which the top four teams in the standings will secure their place at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.
Olympic qualification is also the prize for the teams that finish the men’s Series in the top four, spaces filled by Australia, Fiji, France and Samoa following the opening round in Hong Kong.
With crucial points on offer this Friday and Saturday in Dubai, we preview what should be a scintillating weekend of rugby sevens.
Women’s Series ready for action
The action at The Sevens Stadium, and the 2023 women’s Series, will get underway at 09:00 local time (GMT+4) on Friday when Ireland take on Spain in Pool C.
Powered by the tries of Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe, Ireland finished the pandemic-disrupted 2022 Series in fourth, level on points with second-placed France and Fiji in third.
They will meet the Fijiana in their final pool stage match and with Japan also in Pool C, it could prove pivotal in deciding whether or how the teams qualify for the quarter-finals.
Defending Series champions Australia, who won both Dubai tournaments last year, have been drawn in Pool A alongside USA, Canada and China.
World Rugby Women’s Sevens Player of the Year in partnership with HSBC, Charlotte Caslick will again co-captain the team alongside Demi Hayes and coach Tim Walsh received a boost on the eve of Dubai with news that Faith Nathan had become the fourth player in quick succession to commit her future to the programme.
Nathan played a pivotal role in Australia’s golden 2022, scoring 29 tries, and attributed that success to “the bond that exists between my team-mates and I”.
“They are my chosen family,” she said. “I’m so grateful I get to train, travel, and compete all over the world with them.”
Fresh from reaching the RWC Sevens 2022 semi-finals, where they lost to Australia, USA will hope to test that bond when they face the defending champions in the final match of Pool A.
Meanwhile, New Zealand will make their first appearance in Dubai since 2019 when they take on Great Britain at 09:44 local time (GMT+4) on Friday.
The Black Ferns Sevens have emerged victorious on their last two visits to The Sevens Stadium and have named an exciting squad for this weekend’s tournament.
Experienced players Tyla Nathan-Wong, Niall Williams, Michaela Blyde and Kelly Brazier are joined by debutants Kelsey Teneti, Tysha Ikenasio, Manaia Nuku and Jorja Miller.
They will come up against the dazzling feet of Jasmine Joyce in their opening match, the Welsh winger having been included in a squad co-captained by Abbie Brown and Meg Jones.
Pool B also features France, who will hope to build on their bronze-medal performance at RWC Sevens 2022, and Brazil.
The top two teams from each pool and the two best third-placed finishers will advance to the Cup quarter-finals, which kick-off at 09:00 local time on Saturday.
Challengers target Australia
The men’s tournament will get underway with a North American showdown between USA and Canada at 10:06 local time (GMT+4) on Friday.
USA finished sixth in Hong Kong last time out, while their opponents failed to make the quarter-finals and Canada will be coached by Sean White in Dubai following the departure of Henry Paul.
The neighbours are joined in Pool D by Japan and Samoa, who finished fourth in the opening round having beaten both Australia and New Zealand in the pool stage.
Defending men’s Series champions Australia lead the way in the standings following their dramatic 20-17 final defeat of Fiji in Hong Kong and they know the chasing pack will want to knock them off top spot.
They will kick-off their Dubai campaign against Kenya at 11:56 local time on Friday, and South Africa – who narrowly lost the 2022 Series title to them – and Great Britain have also been drawn in Pool A.
“There’s definitely a target on our back, a lot of teams will be coming for us after Hong Kong but we relish and welcome that,” Henry Hutchison told Rugby.com.au earlier this month.
“We’re going to have to be disciplined to keep it up because sevens is such a difficult game, a different team turns up every event so you can’t be switched off for any game.”
The All Blacks Sevens are due to play in Dubai for the first time in three years on Friday, and they have been drawn in arguably the toughest pool in the men’s tournament.
Fiji, runners-up in Hong Kong, Argentina and Uruguay will provide New Zealand with stiff competition as they attempt to emerge from Pool B.
The second round of matches look particularly intense as Argentina take on neighbours Uruguay (kick-off: 13:49 local time) before Fiji face the All Blacks Sevens.
France were perhaps the surprise team of the opening round in Hong Kong as they beat South Africa during the pool stage and then edged Samoa in the bronze final.
Les Bleus will hope to cement their place in the top four with another strong showing this weekend, and have been drawn alongside Ireland, Spain and Uganda in Pool C.
Ireland, bronze final winners at RWC Sevens 2022, suffered defeat to Australia in the Cup quarter-finals and will be determined to climb the Series standings.
The top two teams in each pool at the end of Friday will qualify for the Cup quarter-finals, which are scheduled to kick-off at 10:28 local time (GMT+4) on Saturday.