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PREVIEW: Vancouver SVNS

ROUND FOUR: After all the build-up and hype, Antoine Dupont will get the chance to do what he does best in Vancouver this weekend – perform his magic on the rugby field.

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France’s captain at World Cup 2023 passed up the chance to be involved in this year’s Six Nations to try and make the cut for the Olympic Games Paris 2024 and that journey starts in earnest at BC Place.

While this is the 27-year-old’s SVNS debut, it is France’s 200th series tournament as a team, so Dupont has experienced figures around him in people like Stephen Parez-Edo Martin and Paulin Riva to guide him through the weekend.

Dupont has been training with Jérôme Daret’s squad over the past few weeks after making his final appearance for his Top 14 club, Toulouse, in their 46-26 victory over Bayonne, where he scored a try and assisted three others.

France have been drawn in Pool B for HSBC SVNS Vancouver alongside Australia, USA and Samoa.

Les Bleus Sevens achieved their best finish of the season in the last tournament in Perth at the end of January but are still only seventh in the overall standings.

Sitting in third, Australia have real momentum behind them after consecutive runners-up finishes.

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Freshly crowned 2023 Australia Men’s Sevens Player of the Year Henry Paterson, who turns 27 the day after the tournament, and Michael Icely will play their first tournaments of the season after overcoming shoulder and ankle injuries respectively.

They’ll replace livewire Maurice Longbottom who will miss the tournament as he is managed through a minor calf complaint.

The athletic Darby Lancaster has also returned to his duties with the Melbourne Rebels ahead of the Super Rugby Pacific season kicking off this weekend.

“We’re thrilled to be able to welcome back Henry and Michael to the squad,” said Australia coach John Manenti.

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“They’ve both worked extremely hard to get right and earn their selection and not only are they champing at the bit to pull on the gold jersey, but they’re also bringing energy and enthusiasm to the rest of the squad.

“As a group, we’ve been continuing to work hard since returning from Perth, and we know we’ll need to keep improving as we look to build momentum throughout the season.’

Australia begin their Vancouver campaign against Samoa in match four. If they beat the Pacific Islanders, it will be their 700th win in series history.

Meanwhile, Pool C looks impossible to call with the sides ranked fourth, fifth and sixth – South Africa, Ireland and New Zealand – lining up against one another. Great Britain complete the set.

South Africa head coach Sandile Ngcobo says he plans to “fight fire with fire” after naming a much-changed squad for the North American stopovers in Vancouver and Los Angeles.

Impi Visser, Shaun Williams, Rosko Specman, Justin Geduld and Darren Adonis have travelled to North America after missing out on the Australian round in Perth last month, where South Africa finished fifth.

Visser, Specman and Geduld played in the opening two tournaments of the 2024 series in Dubai and Cape Town, but Williams and Adonis will make their first appearances of the season.

Adonis last played in Sydney in 2023 and Williams in London at the end of the previous season.

“We needed to have a fresh squad for this trip as we play back-to-back tournaments,” Ngcobo said.

“Unfortunately, we lost some guys to injury following the Perth tournament, but it also provided us the opportunity to pick a fit and strong squad for the trip.

“Rosko and Justin bring vast experience and ability and Impi returns after missing out on Perth due to a neck strain. We are in a very physical pool, so to have Impi back is great, as we will have to fight fire with fire.”

A red-hot encounter awaits the BlitzBoks first up as they have been scheduled to play New Zealand in a blockbuster opening to the men’s tournament.

Andrew Knewstubb makes a long-awaited return for the All Black Sevens after nearly two years on the sidelines with back-to-back ACL injuries.

The All Blacks Sevens, who will be led by Sam Dickson, also have Joe Webber, Roderick Solo and Amanaki Nicole available to them after injury lay-offs with Webber set for his 50th SVNS tournament.

Schedule
(Kick-off is Vancouver time – GMT minus eight hours)

Friday, February 23:

Men:
South Africa v New Zealand – 13.52
Ireland v Great Britain – 14.14
France v USA – 14.36
Australia v Samoa – 1458
Fiji v Spain – 15.20
Argentina v Canada – 15.42
South Africa v Great Britain – 18.56
Ireland v New Zealand – 19.18
France v Samoa – 19.40
Australia v USA – 20.02
Fiji v Canada – 20.24
Argentina v Spain – 20.46

Women:
USA v Fiji – 11.30
Australia v Japan – 11.52
New Zealand v Brazil – 12.14
Ireland v South Africa – 12.36
France v Canada – 12.58
Great Britain v Spain – 13.20
USA v Japan – 16.24
Australia v Fiji – 16.46
New Zealand v South Africa – 17.08
Ireland v Brazil – 17.30
France v Spain – 17.52
Great Britain v Canada – 18.14

Saturday, February 24:

Men:
New Zealand v Great Britain – 12.43
Ireland v South Africa – 13.05
USA v Samoa – 13.27
Australia v France – 13.49
Spain v Canada – 14.11
Argentina v Fiji – 14.33

Women:
Fiji v Japan – 10.15
AUstralia v USA – 10.37
Brazil v South Africa – 10.59
Ireland v New Zealand – 11.21
Canada v Spain – 11.43
Great Britain v France – 12.05

*The play-offs start at 15.11.

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