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With travelling squads for both the Hamilton and Sydney rounds of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2023 named in advance of the tournaments, unsurprisingly there are only minimal changes to the personnel on show for the second part of the Oceania doubleheader.
Reporting a relatively clean bill of health from one week to the next, none of the teams – 16 men’s and eight women’s – have made more than two changes as the Series reaches a pivotal stage of the season, not only in terms of the title race but also Olympic qualification.
For Great Britain women there is one significant addition to their ranks with Welsh speedster and double Olympian Jasmine Joyce coming back into the fold for the HSBC Sydney Sevens.
With Joyce playing the vast majority of her international sevens rugby for Wales in the lower divisions of Europe, this will be only her fifth tournament on the Series.
The inclusion of one of the most dangerous runners in the women’s game comes as a timely boost to a Great Britain team that has improved with each of the three rounds to date.
In Hamilton, they finished fifth, their best tournament to date in this Series, and are now sitting in sixth place overall, just two places and 10 points behind Ireland, who currently occupy the fourth qualification spot for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.
Great Britain, on their Sydney debut, line up in a strong-looking Pool B with Hamilton runners-up USA, Fiji and Canada.
Ireland, France and Great Britain will be the frontrunners to challenge the monopoly that leaders New Zealand, reigning champions Australia and the USA have had on the Series so far.
Beibhinn Parsons was in outstanding form in Hamilton, as was record try-scorer Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe who earned a place on last week’s HSBC Dream Team, and the flying duo will once again be key for Ireland as they look to maintain their forward momentum in Sydney.
For the third tournament in a row, Aiden McNulty’s charges have been paired in the same pool as Spain, while Brazil are repeat opponents from last weekend and will be no pushovers. The South Americans have hit a bit of form and have won four of their last seven matches. 2022 Series champions Australia are the top seeds in Pool C
France, in fifth, have made two changes to their squad as they look to medal for the first time this season. Hada Traore, 23, is set to make her Series debut for Les Bleues, while Montserrat Amédée is the other new addition.
France are in Pool A with New Zealand, Japan and invitational side Papua New Guinea.
Can the medal monopoly be broken?
Between them, New Zealand, Australia and the USA have picked up all the medals on offer in the first three rounds, in Dubai, Cape Town and Hamilton.
The Black Ferns Sevens successfully defended their Hamilton title last weekend and are bidding for a hat-trick of titles in Sydney having won there in 2019 and 2020.
Rock solid in defence and ruthless on the scoreboard, Cory Sweeney’s team are on an 11-game winning streak in Sydney.
Sweeney has made just one change to his squad with Tysha Ikenasio stepping in for the more experienced Alena Saili who is sidelined with a calf injury.
With Saili out, that means eight players return to defend the title they won last year: Niall Guthrie, Shiray Kaka, Michaela Blyde, Jazmin Felix-Hotham, Stacey Fluhler, Tyla Nathan-Wong, Theresa Fitzpatrick and captain Sarah Hirini.
Australia’s women last won on home soil in 2018 and they go with same 13 that had to settle for the bronze medal in Hamilton.
As the top try-scoring team on the Series, Australia’s attack is firing on all cylinders but back in 2018, it was defence that was the main talking point. Incredibly, Australia did not concede a single point on their march to the title, the only time this has ever been done in men’s or women’s Series history.
In addition to Australia, Brazil, Ireland and Papua New Guinea are also unchanged from last week.
Physicality is one of the USA’s main strengths and in Cheta Emba and co-captain Naya Tapper they have two powerhouse runners. However, the Hamilton runners-up are missing the ever-dangerous Jaz Gray, their top try-scorer on this Series. She is replaced by Sarah Levy in the only change to Emilie Bydwell’s squad.
After medalling in three of their four women’s Series events last season, Fiji are still chasing their first top four finish this time around and head coach Saiasi Fuli will be looking for a response. They are without Raijieli Daveua but have not called in a replacement.
Record-equalling Revol leads from the front
This will be the sixth edition of the men’s HSBC Sydney Sevens after the Australian round of the Series relocated from the Gold Coast in 2015-16, although it will be the first time since 2018 that the tournament has been played at the Allianz Stadium.
Hamilton men’s winners, Argentina, will be captained by Gastón Revol in his record-equalling 93rd Series tournament.
Revol, 36, reclaims the armband from Matias Osadczuk on the day he draws level with England’s James Rodwell in terms of Series tournament appearances
He is no stranger to role having led his country for the majority of his long career, including on his Series debut in London in 2009. Hamilton last week was the first Series tournament Revol has not captained Argentina since Seville a year ago.
While Revol is at the tail end of his career, Alfonso Latorre is set to begin his journey on the World Series. Like BJ Lima, the son of Samoa head coach Muliagatele Brian Lima, Latorre is set to make his Series debut in Sydney.
Argentina’s stunning win in Hamilton has sent Los Pumas Sevens up to third in the overall standings, on 59 points, four fewer than pace-setters New Zealand, the team they beat in the Cup final.
For hosts Australia, a big result is needed in Sydney to arrest their slide down the standings. After sitting in top spot after round one in Hong Kong, the 2022 Series champions have dropped down to seventh after their fifth-place finish in Hamilton.
With buoyant Argentina, improving Great Britain and Canada in Pool A with them, Australia won’t be looking any further ahead than those three matches.
Great Britain produced their best result of the season in Cape Town, finishing joint-seventh, but try-scoring has been a problem and they have brought in Api Bavadra to give them more of a cutting edge.
After finishing 10th in the season opener in Hong Kong and picking up seven points, Canada have earned just six points in total across Dubai, Cape Town, and Hamilton.
Two powerhouses collide
Turning attention to Pool B, New Zealand line up with South Africa, Kenya and Uruguay, who will play on Australian soil for the first time since the inaugural Series in 1999-2000
Lewis Ormond returns to the All Blacks Sevens squad after missing Hamilton, while 18-year-old Payton Spencer, the son of former All Black Carlos, is poised to make his Series debut with Moses Leo and Regan Ware missing out.
Following an injury to Selvyn Davids, South Africa have added James Murphy to their squad. Davids suffered a groin injury in Hamilton, where the Blitzboks finished in a disappointing seventh.
South Africa have lost their last five pool encounters against New Zealand with their last success coming on the Gold Coast in the 2012-13 Series.
USA are second in the standings, two points behind the All Blacks Sevens, after claiming their second consecutive bronze medal in Hamilton.
Mike Friday has the luxury of selecting the same 13 for two tournaments in a row as the Men’s Sevens Eagles prepare to face Ireland, Samoa and Spain in Pool C.
Samoa appeared to suffer a post-Cape Town hangover in Hamilton, finishing only ninth, which was some comedown after winning their first Series tournament since Paris in 2016 back in December.
Co-captain Melani Matavao is back to lead the side alongside Vaovasa Afa Su’a and Vaa Apelu Maliko, while all eyes will naturally be on Lima junior.
Where Ireland are concerned, anything can happen. All but four of their 21 matches on the Series to date have been settled by seven points or less. Ed Kelly joins his brother Jack as the only change to James Toppings’ squad.
Pool D promises to full of high-tempo matches with Fiji being joined by France, Japan, and invitational side Tonga.
Fiji failed to medal again in Hamilton and in a bid to make up some of the lost ground, head coach Ben Gollings has made a couple of changes with Alasio Naduva and Tevita Daugunu coming into the squad.
The reigning Rugby World Cup Sevens and Olympic champions are down in eighth place, seven points off the top four Paris 2022 Olympic qualification places.
However, Fiji have historically done well in Australia. They are chasing their seventh Cup title there, and a second in Sydney.
One notable absentee from France’s line-up is Aaron Grandidier, the scorer of 18 tries this season. Jordan Sepho takes his place.
France have only reached the Cup quarter-finals once in Sydney, in 2019, and only four times on Australian soil, so to lose Grandidier is a significant blow to their chances of rewriting the form book.
Tonga return to the HSBC Sydney Sevens for the first time since 2019 and arrive fresh from last weekend’s 10th-place finish in Hamilton, their best result at a Series event since Wellington in 2012.