The world’s best men’s and women’s rugby sevens players will return to action in New Zealand for the first time in 1,091 days following a three-year absence as the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2023 continues in Hamilton on January 21-22.
The Black Ferns Sevens and All Blacks Sevens will be looking to defend the HSBC New Zealand Sevens titles won on home soil dating back to the last event held in 2020, while Samoa and Australia enter the event as men’s and women’s Series leaders respectively.
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 summer’s pinnacle event in the nation’s capital.
The men’s Series has seen eight different teams reach the Cup semi-final stage, with all eight teams medalling across the first three tournaments. There have been three different gold medal winners (Australia, Samoa and South Africa), three different silver medallists (Fiji, Ireland and New Zealand), and three different bronze medal winners (France, New Zealand and USA). Only New Zealand have medalled twice, while Samoa, South Africa and USA have made the semi-finals twice.
The women’s Series has only seen two tournaments, compared to three for the men, but five different teams have reached the Cup semi-final stage. Only three teams have medalled so far, with Australia and New Zealand claiming one gold each. USA have won both bronze medal matches.
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.
The 16 men’s and 12 women’s team captains lined-up in Hamilton on Wednesday in front of the newly opened K’aute Pasigika Pan Pacific Community Centre before engaging with fans for autographs and selfies.
The men’s pool draw for Hamilton sees Cape Town champions Samoa take their place in Pool A alongside Olympic champions Fiji, France and Kenya.
Hosts New Zealand slot into Pool B alongside Great Britain, Hong Kong winners Australia and invitational team Tonga.
New Zealand men’s captain Sam Dickson said: “We’re super excited to be playing at home again. It’s been a few years since we’ve been here. We have many good memories here and we’re looking forward to the weekend.
“It’s an Olympic qualifying year and our goal is to win the World Series and qualify for the Olympics. We obviously had a slow start, but we bounced back really well in Dubai and Cape Town, and we now sit third in the table. So, we’ll be looking at keeping that momentum and flying here in Hamilton and putting on a good show for our fans.”
Cape Town bronze medal winners USA lead Pool C and will face off against Uruguay, Ireland and Japan on day one.
South Africa, Cup winners in Dubai in December, are joined by Argentina, Spain and Canada in Pool D.
In the women’s competition, hosts and reigning Olympic champions New Zealand will face off against Great Britain, Fiji and invitational team Papua New Guinea in Pool A.
New Zealand women’s captain Sarah Hirini said: “It’s awesome to be back here in Hamilton and obviously being an Olympic qualifying year, we want to make sure that we’re in the top four and we’re qualified for Paris. But I think most importantly, just being able to play good footy and have a good time doing it.
“There is great momentum for women’s sport, and we can’t really go anywhere without someone talking about the World Cup which is massively exciting for us, and we want to continue that excitement for the sevens team as well.”
Series title holders Australia, who will be looking to build on their incredible form in 2022 ahead of their home tournament in Sydney from 27-29 January, headline Pool B alongside France, Canada and Japan.
Pool C features USA, who have claimed a pair of bronze medals so far this season, along with Ireland, Brazil and Spain.
The action begins at 8am Fiji Time on Saturday, with all pool phase matches taking place on day one.