The 16 men’s and 12 women’s team captains gathered on Wednesday at Port de la Daurade on the bank of the Garonne river ahead of what promises to be a nail-biting weekend of rugby sevens on 12-14 May at Stade Ernest-Wallon in Toulouse.
HSBC France Sevens marks the final event of the women’s Series where the champions will be crowned and penultimate round for the men with Paris 2024 Olympic qualification and Series glory up for grabs, while a must-see battle to avoid relegation comes to a close.
Women’s Series leaders New Zealand, who have won five of six tournaments this season, can officially clinch their first Series title since 2020 by qualifying for the quarter-finals this weekend in Toulouse.
The Black Ferns Sevens, along with hosts France, Australia, the only other nation to win a women’s Series event this season, and USA have already qualified for Paris 2024, leaving the remaining spot to be decided this weekend with just four points separating Ireland (64), Fiji (62) and Great Britain (60).
If Ireland finish ahead of both Fiji and Great Britain in the end-of-weekend standings, they will secure the final Paris 2024 spot. For Fiji to claim qualification, they need to finish one place higher than Great Britain and two places ahead of Ireland while Great Britain need to finish two places higher than Fiji and three above Ireland to book their ticket to Paris next July.
Ireland women’s captain Lucy Mulhall said: “We’re feeling very excited for this weekend. It’s nice to play close to home so there we’ve got a large contingent of family coming over to watch us so we’re really excited.
“We’re hoping this weekend is third time lucky for some of us to qualify for the Olympics. There’s everything to play for and we knew going into the last tournament that it was going to come right down to the end so it’s really exciting and really special to hopefully qualify here in Toulouse with our family support behind us.”
Pool A in Toulouse features New Zealand, Canada, USA and invitational side Poland who are fresh off competing in the World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series in two events in Stellenbosch last month.
Australia will meet hosts France, Ireland and Brazil in Pool B, while Great Britain, Fiji, Spain and Japan make up Pool C.
New Zealand (164) men’s back-to-back victories in Hong Kong and Singapore mean they now lead the standings by 24 points. With only a maximum of 42 points available in Toulouse and London, the All Blacks Sevens could wrap up the 2023 Series title in France this weekend if they finish 19 points clear of second place Argentina.
Hamilton and Vancouver winners Los Pumas Sevens (140) are closely trailed by Hong Kong runners-up Fiji with 130 points, Paris 2024 hosts France with 122 points, Australia on 112, Samoa a point further back and South Africa on 106 points.
The men’s Series has seen five different winners (Australia, Samoa, South Africa, Argentina and New Zealand) through the opening nine tournaments.
New Zealand became the first nation other than hosts France to secure their Paris 2024 Olympic spot in Singapore, and the three remaining spots will be filled over the next two weekends. Argentina can officially qualify this weekend by making the cup semi-finals, while Fiji can secure their spot by lifting the cup title at Stade Ernest-Wallon on Sunday evening.
New Zealand will meet Uruguay, Kenya and Canada in Pool A, while Singapore runners-up Argentina tackle Great Britain, Spain and the invitational side Germany, who also competed last month at the Challenger Series, in Pool B.
Fiji, bronze medalists in Singapore, face a tricky task with hosts France, South Africa and USA their opponents in Pool C, with Samoa, Australia, Japan and Ireland making up Pool D.
France men’s captain Paulin Riva said: “It’s very exciting for us to play in our home country, and for me I’m very lucky to play in my hometown of Toulouse, so we’re really excited for this weekend. We want to win a tournament, and have had good results so far this season and we have been working very hard ahead of this weekend. We want to win and finish the season in the top three.”
The stakes also couldn’t be higher at the bottom end of the men’s Series this season.
Following this weekend’s penultimate event in Toulouse, the 15th ranked team will be relegated while the 12th through 14th ranked teams will face-off next weekend in London against the Challenger Series 2023 winners – Tonga – for the 12th and final position on the 2024 Series.
As it stands, Japan (16 points) hold the lowest ranking among core teams but the race to avoid the relegation play-off took another twist with Uruguay (49 points) returning to 11th after their run to the Cup quarter-finals in Singapore. Uruguay, Spain (48), Kenya (37), Canada (24) and Japan will all be fervently trying to accumulate points in Toulouse.
Japan could escape automatic relegation if they make the cup quarter-finals and Canada finish last or second-to-last this weekend. Uruguay will avoid the relegation playoff if they finish higher or equal with Spain in Toulouse, while Spain will leapfrog Uruguay if they finish one position higher than Uruguay.
Play gets under way at 10:00 local time (GMT+2) on Friday and remaining tickets for the HSBC France Sevens are available at HSBC France Sevens – FFR – Accueil with the final pool match and first knockout games on Saturday before the finals taking place on Sunday.
Rugby sevens fans around the world can watch the action via live stream www.world.rugby in countries where there is no national broadcaster covering the event.
The HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series arrives in Toulouse at a very exciting time for rugby in France as the country is set to host Rugby World Cup 2023 ahead of the Olympic Games Paris 2024 next summer.
With the women’s series concluding on Sunday, participating teams present in Toulouse will attend the HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series Awards in the evening to recognise and celebrate the achievements of those involved in the 2022 competition. The men’s ceremony will take place next weekend after the HSBC London Sevens.
SOURCE: WORLD RUGBY/PACNEWS