London Sevens: Just one Olympic spot remaining
PREVIEW: While New Zealand secured their 13th Series title last weekend in France, there’s still plenty to be decided in England’s capital on the weekend.
One final spot for next year’s Paris 2024 Olympic Games remains.
Australia (125) is holding a nine-point cushion over Samoa and South Africa (116).
Australia enters the competition on Saturday as defending champions. having defeated their Trans-Tasman rivals New Zealand in a thrilling cup Final in 2022, and will clinch the final spot with an appearance in Sunday’s semifinal.
The stakes also couldn’t be higher at the bottom of the men’s Series this season, as four nations are set to face off in the World Rugby Sevens Series 2024 play-off to decide the 12th and final core team for next season.
Japan, who finished the Series in Toulouse in 15th position, has been relegated from the 2024 Series and will compete this weekend as the invitational team for the cup competition.
Fourth-place finishers in Toulouse, Canada will meet Kenya, Uruguay and Tonga, aggregate winners of the Sevens Challenger Series in Stellenbosch, South Africa to decide who will remain in the Series next season.
The men’s Series has seen five different winners (Australia, Samoa, South Africa, Argentina and New Zealand) through the opening 10 tournaments.
New Zealand became the first nation other than hosts France to secure their Paris 2024 Olympic spot in Singapore, while both Argentina and double-Olympic gold medal winners Fiji claimed their spot in Toulouse.
Toulouse champions New Zealand will face South Africa, Great Britain and the United States in Pool A.
Pool B will feature Argentina, Ireland, Fiji and the invitational side Japan.
France Sevens bronze medal winners Les Bleus headline Pool C alongside Australia, Spain and Samoa – with all eyes on the Saturday fixture between Australia and Samoa in the battle to qualify for Paris 2024.
“You can never underestimate something like an Olympic Games, for sure it would be a great achievement for the team to be set for Paris,” Australia captain Nick Malouf said.
“We haven’t changed our approach for this weekend in London, you have to stick with what you know.
“We’ll be trying to give our best performances every time we step on the field.
“To be in the same pool as Samoa doesn’t worry us, we’ll focus on our game.
“We play great teams on the series all year round.
“It’s always a huge challenge whoever you are up against and that game will be no different, I’m sure it’s something we’ll be ready for.
“We’ll hopefully get the rewards for all our hard work this season, not just in one game in this tournament.”
The BlitzBoks are keen to show what they can do, as they still hope to gain automatic qualification for next year’s Olympic Games in Paris.
Impi Visser said they want to finish the season on a high note by taking the positives from last weekend in Toulouse onto the pitch at Twickenham.
South Africa blew hot and cold in the south of France, but their big wins over Fiji on Friday – in pouring rain – and the United States on Saturday, have given the men in green and gold some confidence in the English capital, while they also know what areas need improvement.
“There were a lot of positives from Toulouse, especially our performances against Fiji and USA,” said Visser.
“We showed what we can do in difficult conditions against Fiji – the way in which we took risks and expressed ourselves – which was a true reflection of our talent. We need to take the momentum from those games into this weekend.
“One area we need to improve, is our restart receipts. We were not good last weekend and that is probably why we lost to Australia and Argentina. We could not get the ball when those opponents kicked on us and we need to sharpen up on that, so that we can run onto defences and play the way we know this team can.”
Visser said the Blitzboks are fired up to finish the World Series – that included a tournament win in Dubai, a heart-breaking semi-final defeat in Cape Town and a runners-up spot in Sydney in the first half of the season – on a high note.
“We want to finish strong after we’ve struggled in the last four or five tournaments,” said Visser.
“I also think it will be good for our confidence going into next season if we can go all the way and win this tournament, and hopefully qualify for the Olympic Games as well.
“It’s a big ask, but we are capable of doing it, so we’re looking forward to finishing the season on a strong note.”
(Kick-off is local time – GMT plus one hour)
Australia v Spain (10.39)
France v Samoa (11.01)
Ireland v Fiji (11.23)
Argentina v Japan (11.45)
South Africa v Great Britain (12.07)
New Zealand v United States (12.29)
Kenya v Canada (12.51)
Uruguay v Tonga (13.13)
Australia v Samoa (13.47)
France v Spain (14.09)
Ireland v Japan (14.31)
Argentina v Fiji (14.53)
South Africa v United States (15.15)
New Zealand v Great Britain (15.37)
Kenya v Tonga (15.59)
Uruguay v Canada (16.21)
Spain v Samoa (17.08)
France v Australia (17.30)
Fiji v Japan (18.07)
Argentina v Ireland (18.35)
Great Britain v United States (19.05)
New Zealand v South Africa (19.33)
New Zealand top the charts and win the Series! 👏
— World Rugby 7s (@WorldRugby7s) May 16, 2023