Your guide to the return of rugby sevens, including who is playing, what format it will take and its importance to the participating teams.
International rugby sevens returns after a year-long absence with back-to-back tournaments taking place in the Spanish capital of Madrid during the final two weekends of February.
Six men’s and six women’s teams will take part in the standalone tournaments which will serve as vital preparation time for the teams who have either qualified for the Toyko Olympics or are striving to get to the Olympic Games through the Repechage route.
The high performance event is being hosted by the Federación Española de Rugby (FER) and supported by World Rugby as part of a US$4 million investment into Olympic qualified unions’ sevens programmes.
WHEN AND WHERE IS IT BEING PLAYED?
Both tournaments will be played at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, on 20/21 February and then 27/28 February. The ground regularly plays host to both the Spain men’s and women’s national XVs teams and hosts an annual sevens tournament.
WHICH TEAMS ARE INVOLVED?
12 teams from eight different countries are represented across the men’s and women’s competition.
In addition to hosts Spain and guests Portugal, the men’s line-up features the Tokyo-bound USA, Argentina and Kenya teams and France, who are still in contention for a qualification spot at the Olympics via the Repechage Tournament.
In the women’s tournament the same North American, French and African teams will also be represented, together with guests Poland, Russia, and of course Spain. USA and Kenya have already qualified for the Olympics, while Russia and France have to take their chance in the Repechage Tournament.
WHAT’S THE FORMAT?
Each team plays each other once, making up a total of five pool fixtures, with the top two teams at the end of pool play contesting the final. The rest of the placings are decided by a 3rd v 4th and a 5th v 6th play-off.
WHAT ARE THE FIXTURES TO GET EXCITED ABOUT?
With a fixture list featuring Spain v Portugal, France v Spain and USA v Russia, there won’t be any shortage of sporting rivalries on show in Madrid.
However, the standout match in pool play is arguably at the end of day one when Men’s Eagles Sevens head coach Mike Friday comes up against the team he once coached, Kenya. Another subplot is that Kenya are now led by one of his former players, Innocent Simiyu. The pace of this match could be on another level.
WHO ARE THE TEAMS TO BEAT?
Men’s: Based on form and results over the last two series, the USA and France will be among the frontrunners. France reached two Cup finals for the first time in a single series in 2019 and backed it up with a runners-up finish in Hamilton in 2020. The USA were the only team to reach every Cup semi-final on the 2019 series, their most successful series by far and finished second. They were seventh on the series when the season was cut short.
Women’s: A look at the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2020 standings tells you that France, USA and Russia will be favorites for the women’s title. The teams finished fourth, fifth and sixth, respectively. While only four points separated France from the Women’s Eagles, Russia found themselves 26 points further back. But with players of the calibre of 2019 DHL Impact Player of the Series, Alena Mikhaltsova, leading them from the front no-one will under-estimate them.
WILL THERE BE SOME STAR NAMES ON SHOW?
Not all of the squads have been officially announced yet, but the USA have made their intentions clear with a star-studded men’s and women’s roster.
Lauren Doyle and Kristen Thomas have over 50 series tournament appearances between them, while men’s speedster Perry Baker is a double centurion in the world series try-scoring stakes.
Meanwhile, France men are missing regular captain JP Barraque who has switched to 15s, but seasoned playmaker Terry Bouhraoua will be pulling the strings in Madrid.
As for Kenya, the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series’ second top try-scorer, Collins Injera, is a notable absentee, but the Africans can still call upon class acts like Willy Ambaka, Billy Odhiambo and Andrew Amonde. – World Rugby