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Thu, 19 January 2023

Rugby Sevens Returns to Hamilton, New Zealand

(19/01/23)  The worlds best mens and womens rugby sevens players are back in New Zealand for the first time in 1,091 days as the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2023 continues in Hamilton on 21-22 January, following a three-year hiatus.

The Black Ferns Sevens and All Blacks Sevens will be looking to defend their HSBC New Zealand Sevens titles won on home soil at the last event held in 2020, while Samoa and Australia enter the event as mens and womens 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 womens and mens teams in the 2023 series standings. As hosts, France has pre-qualified for next summers pinnacle event in the nations capital.

The mens series has seen eight different teams reach the cup semi-final stage, with all eight teams medalling across the first three tournaments.

The 16 men's and 12 women's rugby sevens team captains in Hamilton, New Zealand. Click to enlarge.
The 16 men's and 12 women's rugby sevens team captains in Hamilton, New Zealand

There have been three different gold medal winners (Australia, Samoa and South Africa), three different silver medalists (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 womens 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 couldnt be higher at the bottom end of the mens 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 mens and 12 womens team captains lined-up in Hamilton on Wednesday in front of the newly opened Kaute Pasifika Pan Pacific Community Centre before engaging with fans for autographs and selfies.

The mens 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.

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.

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 were looking forward to the weekend, said Sam Dickson, New Zealand mens captain. Its 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.

In the womens competition, hosts and reigning Olympic champions New Zealand will face off against Great Britain, Fiji and invitational team Papua New Guinea in Pool A.

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.

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, said New Zealand womens captain Sarah Hirini.  There is great momentum for womens 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.

Having been on New Zealands sporting calendar for more than two decades, this year the tournament will see the addition of a second playing field next to FMG Stadium Waikato to enable the full mens and womens draws to be played over the two days.

The action begins at 09:10 local time (GMT+13) on Saturday, with all pool phase matches taking place on day one.

The cup quarter-finals get the action under way at 09:30 on Sunday, with the womens final at 19:26 and the mens final wrapping up the event at 19:56.

Rugby pictures: Pictures from 2019 Cathay Pacific / HSBC Hong Kong Sevens, Pictures from 2018 Cathay Pacific / HSBC Hong Kong Sevens, Pictures from 2017 Cathay Pacific / HSBC Hong Kong Sevens, Pictures from 2016 Cathay Pacific / HSBC Hong Kong Sevens, Pictures of Cathay Pacific / HSBC Hong Kong Sevens 2015, Pictures of the Asia Rugby Sevens Olympic Games Qualifier in Hong Kong, Pictures of Singha Thailand Sevens 2015, Pictures from the 2013 British & Irish Lions Tour in Hong Kong, Pictures of Hong Kong Sevens 2014, Pictures of Hong Kong Sevens 2013, Pictures of Chartis Cup 2012 and Pictures of Cathay Pacific / HSBC Hong Kong Sevens 2012.

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