Dallen Stanford previews the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series' return to Hong Kong

England, Scotland and Wales will compete on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series as Great Britain from this point onwards
©Mike Lee - KLC fotos for World Rugby

Ahead of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series’ return to Hong Kong this weekend, World Rugby commentator Dallen Stanford previewed the season.

The last time that the World Series was played at Hong Kong Stadium, it was 2019. With 2020 and 2021 wiped out as a result of Covid-19, the tournament returns to the country twice in this upcoming season.

A stalwart of the series both as a player for the USA and now in the commentary booth as a regular since 2016, Dallen Stanford for has good memories of the venue, having played in the tournament both internationally and in the 10s competition hosted alongside it.

Having watched on as the likes of Waisale Serevi and his Fiji teammates lifted silverware in 2005 and playing on the field alongside and against greats of the game, it is a tournament that always delivers on the field and from the famous South Stand.

As ever, there is a lot of anticipation ahead of any new season and 2022/23 is no different. Principal amongst those is the arrival of the Great Britain team that has been added to the Series, the men’s team making their bow this weekend.

“I am personally going to miss the individual nations of England, Scotland and Wales taking part on the Series,” Stanford said. “Having Team GB on the Series does align with their Olympic Games aspirations and makes sense that they are now able to develop a full-time squad and have the resources that the other countries have in terms of preparation.

“From a format point of view with Team GB taking part, it means two other countries get to take part in the 16-team tournaments, which I think is important for growing the global game.”

By virtue of England, Scotland and Wales having joined forces this past summer, it is Uruguay who will take up a permanent stop on the World Series. Having won the most recent edition of the Challenger Series in Santiago, Chile, it will certainly be a new look for the competition.

In the final leg of last season’s Series in Los Angeles, it was Australia who eventually finished the campaign as winners. In the midst of all that, South Africa picked up a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games and it was Ben Gollings’ Fiji that won the World Cup in Cape Town.

Simply put, you can never guess who will win at any given weekend.

Now, following those two events in the sevens calendar that are circled at least once, all nations will be entering a new stage of their development. As is always the case, there is player rotation, making the travelling circus take on a new dynamic in a new season.

“The Commonwealth Games and especially the Sevens World Cup are such pinnacle events, that inevitably lead to a large turnover for the next four-year cycle,” Stanford said. 

“What I love about it is the discovery of future stars and also a change in expected form from various teams on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series. A new Series always brings with it new opportunities for teams to perform at the highest level and discard results that didn’t go their way the previous season.”

As far as Pool Stages go, Hong Kong’s will certainly have plenty of intrigue. In Pool A, Australia, New Zealand, Samoa and Hong Kong will all go toe to toe in a stacked grouping. In Pool B, South Africa and France are joined by two new entities in the form of Great Britain and Uruguay, the former certainly having attention heaped on them. World Cup winners Fiji are the headline act in Pool C and are joined by the USA, Spain and Japan.

Finally, Pool D will be a tight affair as Argentina, Ireland, Kenya and Canada will all fancy their chances of progressing in the tournament.

Ireland were breakout stars last year in their first season as a core team. Terry Kennedy set the world alight with 50 tries on the Series, while Jordan Conroy continued to be a consistent threat and the likes of Billy Dardis and Harry McNulty got to ply their trade at the top level more regularly.

Certainly capable of winning multiple legs, the team coached by James Topping were at the top of Stanford’s list when asked about who might be teams to look out for over the course of the season.

“Ireland were one of the surprise packages as the recent Sevens Rugby World Cup, and it would be superb to see them continue that great form,” he said. “Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, Argentina and Samoa will all be very difficult to beat.

“I know South Africa will want to start the Series on form after a disappointing showing in front of their home fans in Cape Town recently.”