The world’s best men’s and women’s rugby sevens players will return to action in Vancouver this weekend with a three-day event from 03-05 March as the race for HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series glory and the all-important Olympic qualification heats up.
The 28 captains who will do battle for the highly coveted HSBC Canada Sevens crowns gathered on Wednesday on the traditional territory of Tsleil-Waututh Nation as they fine tune their preparations ahead of kick off on Friday.
With the popular event returning to the city for the eighth consecutive year, Canada’s men’s and women’s teams will be looking to put on a show for their fans as they enter the field at the BC Place Stadium.
Canada women’s co-captain Breanne Nicholas said: “We’re very excited to be playing on our home turf alongside the men. We know what it’s like in Langford, and we’re ready for the hype of Vancouver. Playing alongside the men is not only positive for the growth of rugby in Canada but the growth of women’s sport in Canada.”
However, New Zealand’s Black Ferns Sevens and All Blacks Sevens lead the current Series standings and arrive in confident mood having won the last three women’s events and two men’s events respectively.
This weekend in Vancouver, if New Zealand’s women’s team reaches the cup finals, they will be the second nation to officially qualify for Paris 2024 after France, who have a spot secured as hosts.
Black Ferns women’s captain Sarah Goss said: “It’s been amazing being in a new city in Canada, we love coming here and to be able to play at BC Place – we went to the stadium yesterday and had a run around against Canada – it’s an amazing stadium and we’re looking forward to the weekend.
“I have only seen that [New Zealand can qualify for Paris 2024] in the media and we haven’t actually talked about that as a team. We’re just trying to get better and better as the tournament goes along and we’re very happy with how we’re sitting but we probably won’t be too happy unless we continue that momentum we’ve already built.”
The 2023 Series is shaping up to be the most competitive in history with the prize of Olympic Games Paris 2024 qualification on offer for the top four women’s and men’s teams in the 2023 Series standings, while hosts France have pre-qualified for next year’s pinnacle event in the nation’s capital.
The men’s Series has seen five different gold medal winners (Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, Samoa and South Africa) in the six rounds to date.
New Zealand sit firmly on top of the women’s leader board with 78 points, having won the last three tournaments in Sydney, Hamilton and Cape Town. Australia, the only other nation to have won a tournament in Dubai, are tied with USA at 66 points each. The Americans join New Zealand as the only nation to have medalled at every event this season, while France picked up their first bronze medal in Sydney.
The stakes couldn’t be higher at the bottom end of the men’s Series this season as well. Following the penultimate event in Toulouse, the 15th ranked team will be relegated to the 2024 Sevens Challenger Series while the 12th through 14th ranked teams will face off against the Sevens Challenger Series 2023 winner for the 12th and final position on the 2024 Series.
Ireland captain Harry McNulty said: “Back-to-back tournaments are always tough, and with the three-day tournament it means one less training day, but we love coming to Vancouver – it’s always a great crowd so we’re excited to push on from last week. For us it was great to get three wins in the pool but disappointing to not win anything on day two, so we’re really looking forward to putting in another good performance this weekend.
“Every tournament you have to take into consideration how hard the pools are because it’s been crazy at the moment when there’s nine teams who can qualify for the four Olympic spots at the end of the season. So we’re going tournament-to-tournament in terms of getting our preparation right but also every tournament means you’re one step closer to the end of the season so we need to make sure we get the most amount of points as we can.”
The men’s pools for Vancouver have HSBC Los Angeles winners New Zealand in Pool A alongside Cape Town champions Samoa, Spain and the United States. Pool B includes silver medal winners Argentina with South Africa France and Japan. Bronze medal winners Fiji will meet Great Britain, Uruguay and Kenya in Pool C, while Australia lead Pool D alongside Ireland, Canada and Chile.
The women’s pools for Vancouver have New Zealand, Fiji, Great Britain and Colombia in Pool A. Reigning Series champions Australia will be looking to bounce back in Pool B against France, Japan and Spain. Pool C sees the USA together with Ireland, hosts Canada and Brazil.
The action begins at 09:15 local time (GMT-8) on Friday, beginning three days of action-packed world-class rugby sevens, which concludes with the finals on Sunday evening.
SOURCE: WORLD RUGBY/PACNEWS