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Two teams will be challenging for 11th position in the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2023 this weekend, thus ensuring a place in next year's revamped competition.
🏉 The teams who finish 12th to 14th after #France7s will take part in a relegation play-off at #London7s, along with #7sChallengerSeries winners, Tonga— World Rugby 7s (@WorldRugby7s) May 8, 2023
🇪🇸 @ferugby can leapfrog Uruguay out of the relegation play-off spots if they make the 5th-place semi-finals or higher and… pic.twitter.com/i0An1i66fH
With nine of the 11 tournaments in the 2023 Series already played, the stakes are high both at the top and bottom of the standings in Toulouse.
While Argentina are confident they can seal their place at the Olympic Games in Toulouse to accompany New Zealand and hosts France, Uruguay and Spain also have a lot to play for.
For the three Spanish-speaking teams, Toulouse will be extremely important.
With the number of teams reduced to 12 in a revamped Series in 2024, the top 11 at the end of this weekend will secure their spot for next year; those that finish 12th-14th will meet a week later in London, where they will be joined by Tonga as winners of the World Rugby Sevens Challenge Series 2023.
The winner of that play-off tournament at Twickenham will become the 12th and final team to secure their place in the 2024 Series.
“We are playing for the possibility of staying in the Series, of being among the 11. We have one kill-or-die tournament left,” says Uruguayan coach Ivo Dugonjic. His team leads Spain by one point in the standings.
“We are going to give everything, playing with a lot of confidence and security,” he adds.
Uruguay are completing their first season as a core team in the Series and have had very good moments, defeating Ireland, South Africa and Fiji, and qualifying for the Cup quarter-finals on two occasions in their debut year.
In nine tournaments, the team led by Manuel Ardao won 17 matches and lost 31.
“We entered the circuit without knowing what to expect, needing to find our place. Our goal was always to be competitive, looking at ourselves, our game, and our progress,” Dugonjic said.
“As things were taking place, competing with more and more teams, we found ourselves in this position coming to this tournament. We are going to defend it until the last minute without letting our guard down, such is our personality."
Spain have been playing in the Series for many years. Coach Paco Hernández played in 26 tournaments between 2013 and 2021, taking the captaincy in 2017.
An Olympian in 2016, he replaced his old team-mate Pablo Feijoó in January, and since then, Los Leones Sevens have been on the rise, playing their best two tournaments in Hong Kong and Singapore, adding 18 much-needed points in the process.
“We are looking at ourselves,” says Hernández in the run-up to Toulouse.
“We have been growing since January, improving on each tour and the last two tournaments we had a good dynamic. The idea is to compete well, keep improving and be able to try to get into the top eight.”
In a season in which Los Leones Sevens won 18 games, drew two and lost 30, they beat the All Blacks Sevens in Cape Town and South Africa in Singapore.
Yet, both Spain and Uruguay will work hard to control the controllables; what the other team does for that 11th place is not something they will lose sleep over.
“We can control our game, but not what Uruguay does,” adds Hernández.
Both coaches agree that their main focus at the moment is on their pool matches.
Spain will begin their race for survival against Great Britain on Friday, 12 May and will then play against Argentina, a team that has helped Uruguay find their feet in the Series.
On Saturday, Hernández's side could have the opportunity to book their ticket to the quarter-finals against Germany, the invitational team, who are their final opponents in Pool B.
“Great Britain is a key game for us, Argentina have been playing very well and it is not easy. And then Germany, who couldn't [win] the Challenger Series. The important thing is to win that first game and have a better chance of getting into the top eight.”
Uruguay's journey will begin with Kenya and Canada on Friday, closing the pool stage the following day against the All Blacks Sevens. Friday, we will need them up-to-speed from the first kick-off.
Without delving into each rival, Dugonjic adds: “The goal is to be very solid on the first day. It will be hard because for us there are no easy teams. We can win or lose, but we will try to achieve the goal."
While Uruguay twice reached the quarter-finals in the Series, Spain finished in the top eight recently in Hong Kong.
If their paths were to cross, it would be their fourth match-up this season. In November, in Hong Kong, Spain won 19-14. The next two matches were Uruguayan wins, 24-12 in Cape Town and 26-5 in Sydney. There is an almost total parity, reinforced by their season numbers.
“The idea is to compete, take advantage of our strengths, have a very, very good tournament and hopefully be in the top four. In Hong Kong, our ticket to the semi-finals escaped us in overtime, we are a team that can be hard to play against,” says Hernández.
Road to Toulouse
Spain prepared in Madrid trying to polish details and plotting how to play in Toulouse.
“Little load and a lot of quality,” defines the Spanish coach.
“After so much traveling, playing close helps. Toulouse is on the border and we hope that many of our fans will come to see us.”
Los Teros Sevens, after continuing to work in Montevideo, travelled several days before to Cap Breton, near Biarritz, a venue France Sevens have often used to prepare.
With their regular team ready and hungry, Uruguay's luck will be in the hands of the players.
“The boys are fine, calm, confident. You have to look for assurances and solidity and the rest will come alone,” former international Dugonjic concludes.