Of the 16 teams set to compete at the HSBC London Sevens this weekend, four know this could be their last experience of life at the top table for at least 12 months.
Following 10 intense tournaments, Canada, Kenya and Uruguay have got one final chance to secure their place on the 12-team line-up for the new-look men’s HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2024.
This Saturday and Sunday they will be joined by World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series 2023 winners Tonga to take part in the World Rugby Sevens Series 2024 Play-off at Twickenham.
Each of the quartet will play three matches during a round-robin pool stage, before the top two advance to a winner-takes-all play-off to decide the identity of the 12th and final team on the 2024 Series.
Canada arrived in London as the team in form, having reached the Cup semi-finals in Toulouse last weekend, where their hopes of winning a first Cup title in six years were ended by Argentina.
“We feel pretty good, we have good momentum coming out of Toulouse,” captain Phil Berna told World Rugby.
“But it’s do-or-die, you never know what’s going to happen on the day. Hopefully we can just keep to the same processes that we were doing in France and bring them here.”
Keeping level heads
Canada’s run to fourth place in France included pool-stage victories against both Uruguay (26-0) and Kenya (33-7), but Berna warned against complacency ahead of the Series Play-off.
“It’s probably just getting our egos and our heads back in it, not thinking that ‘OK we beat them last weekend, that means we’ll beat them this weekend’,” he suggested.
“Keeping level heads is going to be massive for us.”
Psychology is also going to be important for Uruguay, who started the tournament in Toulouse in 11th place in the standings but were edged to safety by a solitary point by Spain.
It was a gutting blow for a team that had reached two Cup quarter-finals during the season, but Los Teros Sevens captain Diego Ardao has backed his team-mates to recover in London.
“We’ve been talking with the guys,” Ardao said. “It was tough to lose the opportunity to maintain the core status without playing in the relegation play-off, but we know what we can do.
“That’s why we had that opportunity because we’ve been playing really good rugby, really good sevens.
“So, we are really confident about that and that’s what we’ve got to grab from ourselves.”
A huge opportunity
Kenya finished a difficult weekend in Toulouse, during which they lost to both Canada and Uruguay, by beating USA and Japan on the final day.
Those results earned the Shujaa 13th place in France and have ensured the team travelled north to London full of hope they can retain their place on the Series.
“The boys are relaxed,” captain Nelson Oyoo said. “They know what they need to do and what’s at stake.
“I can’t say there’s no pressure, there’s pressure, but we’re trying as much as possible to keep calm and be able to tackle the task at hand.”
One positive for Oyoo and his team-mates to cling to is the fact that Kenya are the only team competing in the Series Play-off to have beaten Tonga this year.
Tonga competed in Hamilton and Sydney as an invitational side, beating both Canada and Uruguay in the process. However, they lost to Kenya 33-19 in New Zealand before gaining their revenge across the Tasman Sea (26-24) a week later.
Captain Sione Tupou is under no illusion about the size of the task that awaits Tonga at Twickenham, but he is confident the players have what it takes to secure promotion.
“We know there’s an opportunity for us to be on the World Series and it’s quite a challenge for us but we’re going to give it our all,” Tupou said.
“It’s going to be a huge challenge for us because being here, we know that the other teams know the Series and that level is going to be different for us. “But we know that with what we’ve got right now, we’re confident.”.