Seven things we learned from the HSBC London Sevens
We recap some of the highlights from an enthralling final weekend of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2023.
On Sunday, a thrilling HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2023 concluded at Twickenham, where there were big wins for Argentina, Australia and Canada.
Although beaten to the overall Series title by New Zealand by 21 points, Los Pumas Sevens ended their most successful campaign on a high by winning a third gold medal of 2023.
Earlier, Canada had secured their core team status by beating Kenya in the deciding match of the World Rugby Sevens Series 2024 Play-off. Australia, meanwhile, held onto fifth place in the standings to confirm their qualification for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.
As the dust settles on a compelling campaign, and thoughts begin to drift towards the new look 2024 Series, we recap seven things we learned from the HSBC London Sevens.
100 FOR MONETA!!! 🏉— World Rugby 7s (@WorldRugby7s) May 21, 2023
Marcos Moneta scores his 100th try for @lospumas on the #HSBC7s tour 🇦🇷
What a player! 🙌#London7s pic.twitter.com/rR385lyRRY
Viewers get glimpse of what’s to come in 2024
Fans watching the action in London this weekend, whether at home or as part of the bumper carnival crowd inside Twickenham, were treated to a glimpse of what the revamped 2024 Series will look like.
The reduction in the number of competing teams from 16 to 12 means there is absolutely no let-up in intensity as they chase victory.
Gold medallists Argentina were made to work incredibly hard for their tournament win, losing to Ireland in the pool stage and coming close to being beaten by Samoa in the Cup semi-finals.
Los Pumas Sevens overcame those challenges and went on to beat Fiji for a second time in two days in the final, making the most of the numerical advantage given to them by Josese Batirerega’s red card to win 35-14.
It was a thrilling way to bring the curtain down on the 2023 Series and hinted at the exciting 2024 season that lies in wait – once the players have had a well-earned rest, of course.
Moneta and Isgro enjoy themselves at Twickenham
Argentina had never previously won more than one gold medal in a single season so to claim a third in 2023 at the HSBC London Sevens confirmed this as the team’s most successful Series campaign by some distance.
Marcos Moneta and Rodrigo Isgro will celebrate that success by going on holiday together in the coming weeks and they have certainly earned their break, driving Los Pumas Sevens onto glory at Twickenham.
It wasn’t merely the four tries they each scored in London or the two touchdowns apiece they contributed to the Cup final defeat of Fiji that set them apart over the weekend.
Moneta, who has now racked up 100 Series tries in only 20 tournaments, and Isgro enjoy a near telepathic understanding on the pitch that makes defending them almost impossible when they are in full flow.
“We are very close because we are friends,” HSBC Player of the Final Isgro said on Sunday. “We share the same room and spend a lot of time together, inside the team and outside the team.”
It’s a friendship they hope will drive Argentina onto new heights in 2024.
Canada back “where we’re supposed to be”
Canada captain Phil Berna insisted ahead of the weekend that his side’s fourth-place finish in Toulouse was “part of the peak” as they prepared to compete in the Series Play-off in London.
Following an opening 24-19 defeat to Kenya on Saturday, however, he must have feared they had left that form in France.
Wins over Uruguay – who were 15 points better off than them in the 2023 Series standings – and Tonga were enough to book their place in the Play-off decider, though.
Having fallen behind to an early Nelson Oyoo try in that match, Canada responded through Josiah Morra and Alex Russell to confirm their core status by the slimmest of margins, winning 12-7 to leave the Shujaa dejected.
“It feels great, it feels like that’s where we’re supposed to be,” Berna said in the aftermath of victory.
Australia get the job done, just
Australia captain Nick Malouf was being honest when he described his side’s Sunday at Twickenham as “one of the biggest rollercoasters ever”.
Despite holding a nine-point cushion heading into the HSBC London Sevens in the race for the fourth and final ticket to the Paris 2024 Olympics on offer from the Series, there was a time on day two when it looked as though their fate had been taken out of their hands.
Had Samoa been able to hold on to beat Argentina and book their place in the Cup final it would have been them, and not Australia, who were celebrating qualification.
But Los Pumas Sevens rallied to win their semi-final and that enabled Australia to book their ticket to Paris with a commanding 34-5 defeat of Great Britain in the seventh-place play-off.
In the final standings, Malouf and his team-mates edged Samoa to a place at the Olympics by just a single point.
Making an impact from the very beginning 🤌— World Rugby 7s (@WorldRugby7s) May 21, 2023
There's no surprise that Vaa Apelu Maliko has won the DHL Impact Player Award@DHLRugby | #HSBC7s | #HSBC7sAwards pic.twitter.com/vf5lkyB5wj
Vaa Apelu Maliko can finish
Samoa’s surge to their first bronze medal in almost 10 years, and to within a whisker of Olympic qualification, was powered once again by the tries of Vaa Apelu Maliko.
Co-captain Apelu Maliko scored an incredible 11 tries across the two days of action at Twickenham, including four in the pool-stage win against Spain.
He also scored the try that gave his side the lead they held between the third and 12th minutes of their Cup semi-final against Argentina.
Samoa and Apelu Maliko were unable to find the second try that would have wrapped up victory, but they recovered to win an enthralling bronze final against New Zealand in the last play of the match.
His feats in London ensured Apelu Maliko leapfrogged Moneta to finish the 2023 Series as the top male try scorer with 50. He also ended the campaign top of the men’s DHL Impact Player table and underlined his standing as one of the stars of the game.
Plenty of positives for Great Britain
It was ultimately a disappointing Sunday for Great Britain, who suffered three defeats to finish eighth in London.
However, those results cannot be allowed to detract from what has been an encouraging second half of the season in the team’s debut campaign in a full Series.
Since Sydney in January, Great Britain have reached seven successive Cup quarter-finals, and although they only went on to reach the semi-finals once in that run, in Vancouver, there is plenty to build on as they prepare for their second season as a combined squad.
Had they not finished outside the top eight in three of the first four tournaments of 2023, they might have been able to put together a run for Olympic qualification.
USA have work to do
At the same time that Great Britain were beginning to put some performances together, several other teams suffered a dip in form.
South Africa and Ireland both saw their Olympic qualification hopes fade away in the final weeks of the season, but it is the USA whose results suffered the most.
The Men’s Sevens Eagles started the 2023 Series strongly, picking up bronze medals in Cape Town and Hamilton.
However, a mid-season slump ensured they picked up only eight points in Sydney and Los Angeles and they finished the campaign with a run of seven points from three tournaments, in Singapore, Toulouse and London.
Their 2023 Series ended with a heavy 47-5 defeat to South Africa in the ninth-place play-off on Sunday. As a result of their performance in London the USA dropped to 10th in the standings, their worst finish since they came 13th in 2014, and there is work for a clearly talented team to do ahead of next season.