World's Best Players in Toulouse for France
The 16 men’s and 12 women’s team captains
gathered at Port de la Daurade on the bank of the
Garonne River on Wednesday, ahead of what promises to be a nail-biting weekend
of rugby sevens at Stade Ernest-Wallon in Toulouse on 12-14 May.
SBC France Sevens is the final event of the women’s
series and the penultimate round for the men who will next head to
England for the London Sevens..
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 Olympic Games, 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.
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.
will meet hosts France, Ireland and Brazil in Pool B, while Great
Britain, Fiji, Spain and Japan make up Pool C.
“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,” said
Lucy Mulhall, Ireland women’s captain. “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.”
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.
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.
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.
Paulin Riva, France men’s captain, 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 with the final
pool match and first knockout games on Saturday before the finals
taking place on Sunday.
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
the Rugby World Cup 2023 ahead of the Olympic Games Paris 2024 next
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