Dallen Stanford previews the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series in Dubai

Nathan Lawson peels away from New Zealand on Australia's successful weekend in Hong Kong
©Mike Lee - KLC fotos for World Rugby

Ahead of the Dubai 7s this weekend, HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series commentator Dallen Stanford spoke to TRU’s Joe Harvey after the competition announced changes for the future and the start of the women’s competition.

The World Rugby Sevens Series got off to a flying start in Hong Kong in November as the competition’s return to Asia saw Australia win the Cup Final. 

Last season’s winners, the side coached by John Manenti upset the odds to take a title back home with them and impressed commentator Dallen Stanford in the process.

“Australia showed us yet again that team chemistry can carry you across the line,” Stanford said. “Two examples that jump to mind include their remarkable 10-7 semi-final win against France and doing so with five players on the field for two minutes.

“Then in the final, they produced a miracle finish against Fiji, scoring two tries at the death to lift the title thanks to a 20-17 result.”

Men and women in action

After a month’s preparation, both the men’s and women’s competitions will compete for consecutive weeks. 

This leg in Dubai is the first, prior to moving on to Cape Town, the stage of the most recent Rugby World Cup Sevens in which Fiji [men] and Australia [women] were crowned champions.

When it comes to the men’s competition, Australia are pooled with South Africa, Great Britain and Kenya, while runners-up in Hong Kong, Fiji, are in a tasty group alongside Argentina, New Zealand and Uruguay.

There are tough draws all round. In Pool C, France, Ireland, Spain and Uganda will scrap it out, while in the final pool, Samoa, USA, Canada and Japan will compete for good seeding.

“For the men, the form sides that should advance to the quarter-finals include Australia, South Africa, Fiji, Argentina, France, Ireland, Samoa and the USA,” Stanford said. 

“Two sides that under performed in Hong Kong are New Zealand and South Africa, who are incidentally the most successful teams in Dubai 7s history, winning a combined 15 of the 22 Cup Finals played in the desert.”

When it comes to the women’s competition, they have not played on the Series since May. Meaningful game time in between has come by way of the Commonwealth Games and World Cup, so it will be the first time that teams will have been able to test one another out.

“This will be the first chance we get to see the women’s teams in action this season for stop one of seven, and I expect Series champions Australia to set the pace in Dubai,” Stanford said. 

“They bring a highly experienced team, with Women’s Sevens Player of the Year Charlotte Caslick always one to watch. New Zealand, who won last season’s closing event in Toulouse, together with Fiji, France, Ireland and USA will all be eager for a podium finish in Dubai.”

Significant developments

As teams jetted into the United Arab Emirates, World Rugby announced a number of changes to the World Series. Describing them as a ‘reimagination’ to ‘grow fans and revenues’, it is due to be a significant shakeup to the competition.

This includes remodelling the series to have seven rounds, aligning the men’s and women’s competition, reducing the number of men’s teams to 12 from 16 and staging an annual ‘Grand Finale’ event to crown the Series champions.

In addition to this reimagining of things, at that same ‘Finale’ competition, there will be the opportunity for four men’s and women’s teams to gain promotion from the Challenger Series.

There is also a significant development financially, with men’s and women’s teams receiving equal participation fees, with a 70 per cent uplift in World Rugby’s investment in participation coming thanks to this new model.

More than anything else, you have to say that this opens up the game in a way that will not only incentivise unions to invest, but also for every team to perform at the highest level possible with the drop to the Challenger season threatening.

In all, it should add some extra spice to the Word Series which has seen interest wane in recent years, even if the product on offer has only ever seem to improve every year.

“The reason why this season is billed as the most entertaining and exciting one yet, is that each match played is vitally important for overall Series points,” Stanford said.

“The top four women’s and men’s teams at the conclusion of the current series, will qualify automatically for the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris. 

“Additionally, the relegation battle will be tighter than ever with such high stakes, especially in the men’s competition where four nations will drop out. For the fans it will be a roller coaster of emotions, with plenty of unbelievable action and a lot of fun!”