Australia’s Olympic qualification bid receives a timely boost
All the main squad news ahead of this weekend’s Cathay/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens as fit-again Nick Malouf attempts to lead his team to a second Cup title at the iconic venue in less than six months.
With their Paris 2024 Olympic Games qualification bid still in the balance and their hopes of successfully defending last year’s HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series title looking increasingly distant, there is very little margin for error for Australia’s men in Hong Kong this weekend.
Australia currently occupy the fourth qualification spot from the 2023 Series and are fifth in the overall standings, 26 points behind leaders New Zealand, after being unable to add to the Cathay/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens Cup win back in November.
However, they have received a pre-tournament boost, as they bid to become the first team to win back-to-back titles at the event in the same World Series, with the news that captain Nick Malouf is ready to make his first appearance since Dubai in December.
An ankle injury has kept him out of action in 2023 but Malouf is now fit again and raring to go in what will be his 50th Series event.
"After missing out on five tournaments and coming back from a significant injury, I'm super excited to get back out there," said Malouf.
"The team has some fond memories in Hong Kong – we can't wait to get back and recreate some of the success we had last time.”
Let’s do this #HK7s! 🤩#HSBC7s pic.twitter.com/swYhu0SHrq— World Rugby 7s (@WorldRugby7s) March 29, 2023
Australia line up in Pool C with the USA, Spain and Japan.
Argentina, in second place in the men’s Series standings, will be thankful that their leader, Gaston Revol, has recovered from the stiff back that prevented him from playing in Vancouver. The 36-year-old will extend his record of 94 Series tournaments after being named in a Los Pumas Sevens squad showing three changes from Vancouver.
Los Pumas Sevens are in Pool A with Fiji, Samoa and Canada.
Dickson misses out for New Zealand
While Australia and Argentina have their captains back on board, the All Blacks Sevens are missing their regular leader, Sam Dickson, as they look to keep Los Pumas Sevens and the chasing pack firmly behind them.
A calf injury has ruled Dickson out of Hong Kong and his place in the squad has been taken by Codemeru Vai, with Sione Molia and Dylan Collier named as co-captains.
Vai makes his Series debut alongside head coach Clark Laidlaw’s other new picks, Xavier Tito-Harris and Rhodes Featherstone.
Leading New Zealand to a 14th Series title would be the perfect way for Laidlaw to sign off temporarily from sevens after it was announced that he will return to 15s in June as head coach of the New Zealand team preparing for the World Rugby U20 Championship in South Africa.
3️⃣ New players for the team that will do duty in Hong Kong this coming weekend.— Springbok Sevens (@Blitzboks) March 28, 2023
📺 Catch the #Blitzboks in action, live on SuperSport Rugby
#BlitzIgnite #HSBC7s @WeBuyCars_SA @McDonalds_SA pic.twitter.com/zGqSvc7FoY
The All Blacks Sevens are in Pool D and face a series of tough-looking fixtures against South Africa, Ireland and Kenya.
Meanwhile, Fiji’s new-look squad contains nine players who were not part of the team that lost to Australia in the final of the same tournament in November last year.
Rangy forward Joseva Talacolo returns after missing the past four rounds due to injury. He is expected to provide the firepower in the pack as Fiji bid for a ninth Hong Kong title, while Napolioni Bolaca has been cleared to play despite an ongoing knee issue.
Josua Vukurinabili and Jerry Tuwai miss out due to illness.
Three players are set to make their Blitzboks bow in Donovan Don, Ethan James and Sebastiaan Jobb.
“The three of them are talented rugby players and they know how to play. For us as seniors, it’s just a matter of guiding them on the field in sticking to the game plan, but we also want them to express themselves to the best of their abilities," said South Africa captain Siviwe Soyizwapi, who made his debut for the team in Hong Kong in 2016 and needs three tries to notch 150 in the Series.
Debutants get a chance to shine
Outside of New Zealand and South Africa, there are four more debutants.
Two are from Canada in Max Stewart and Will Percillier, the brother of sevens international Matt Percillier, who doesn’t make the squad. The Thiel siblings, Josh and Jake, are also absent.
Elsewhere, Uruguay have handed Sebastian Schroeder a first run out on the Series, while Pita Vi makes the step up for the USA.
With 366 Series tournaments between them, boosted by Revol’s tally, Argentina are the most experienced squad in the competition, followed by Kenya (325) and then France (316).
Les Bleus Sevens include Antoine Zeghdar, Jefferson Lee Joseph and Esteban Capilla as three changes to their silver medal-winning squad from Vancouver.
France have Great Britain, Uruguay and Hong Kong for company in Pool B.
Great Britain, who are missing former captain Alex Davis, are the only other squad with a combined total above 300.
Relegation favourites Japan field the only unchanged squad from Vancouver.