As part of its new look, three European cities have been added to the 2022 HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series.
Starting with the traditional curtain-raising event in Dubai at the end of November followed by an additional tournament on the Persian Gulf Coast, the men’s Series will incorporate 10 events while the women’s has seven.
After back-to-back tournaments in Dubai, the Series bypasses its usual stopover in Australasia due to COVID-19 restrictions to head to southern Spain for the first time at the end of January.
With tournaments in Malaga (21-23 January) and Seville (28-30 January), Spain is set to become only the ninth country to host the Series in multiple cities as it prepares to make its debut as a host nation. Malaga will become the first new host city in the women’s competition since Hamilton in New Zealand in 2020 and the 18th overall.
Rugby in Spain has been on a high for a while in 15s and in sevens and both the men’s and women’s teams enjoy core team status on the Series, so the locals will no doubt be out in force to cheer them on. The milder winter weather experienced in that part of Europe should also make them a big draw for those outside of the country, COVID-19 travel restrictions permitting.
Basque-ing in the glory
Spain is no stranger to hosting big rugby events, either. It was the host nation for Rugby World Cup 2002, with the final played in Barcelona’s Olympic Stadium. The iconic venue has also hosted France’s Top 14 final and European Cup rugby.
To the north, the Basque country has hosted both a European Cup semi-final and a final Leinster. In 2005, Biarritz made the short journey to the beautiful coastal city of San Sebastian for their last four encounter against the Ospreys in 2005. While in more recent times, Bilbao, the largest city in the Basque country, had the honour of hosting the 2018 Heineken Champions Cup final, won by Leinster after a hard-fought match against Racing 92.
While Seville has not attracted club matches of the same magnitude as Barcelona, the Estadio Olímpico de la Cartuja in the city was used as an occasional test venue, from 1985-2005. It goes without saying, the half-time oranges would have been good.
Meanwhile, in February, Spain’s capital city Madrid successfully hosted the first international sevens tournament since lockdown, as 12 teams from eight different countries ramped up preparations for the Tokyo Olympics.
From Spain, the men’s Series moves to the North American rounds in Vancouver on 26-27 February and Los Angeles on 5-6 March, before heading off to Asia where Hong Kong returns to host a combined men’s and women’s event on 1-3 April, followed by a men’s event in Singapore on 9-10 April. For the women’s teams, it will be the first time they have sampled the unique atmosphere of Hong Kong.
A women’s standalone event will take place in Langford, Canada, on 30 April-1 May before both men’s and women’s teams travel to a new Series venue in Toulouse, France, on 20-22 May where the women’s Series champions will be crowned.
Toulouse is bound to be a winner
Toulouse will become the 36th new host city on the men’s Series and the 21st on the women’s.
As home to the record five-time European and 21-time French Top 14 champions and the newly-promoted Super League outfit, Toulouse is steeped in rugby culture.
For the best part of a century, test rugby has been played in France’s fourth-largest city, including at Rugby World Cups 1999 and 2007 and five pool matches are scheduled to take place there in France 2023.
Like rugby sevens in general, Toulouse is known for its love of a party, making it an ideal destination for a sport that appeals to fun-loving, adrenaline seekers.
After Toulouse, the men’s Series concludes with one final tournament in London on 28-29 May.