The 16 captains gathered on Thursday ahead of the highly anticipated HSBC Los Angeles Sevens on 25-26 February, which sees the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series return to Dignity Health Sports Park for the second time in less than six months.
For the second time in less than six months, the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series returns to Los Angeles this weekend with a two-day event from 25-26 February as the race for Series glory and the all-important Olympic qualification heats up.
The 16 men’s team captains who will do battle for the highly coveted HSBC Los Angeles Sevens crown gathered outside Dignity Sports Health Park on Thursday afternoon alongside participants from HSBC’s World of Opportunity Programme.
The 2023 Series is shaping up to be the most competitive in history with the prize of Olympic Games Paris 2024 qualification on offer for the top four women’s and men’s teams in the 2023 Series standings, while hosts France have pre-qualified for next year’s pinnacle event in the nation’s capital.
The Men’s Series has seen nine different teams reach the Cup Semi-Final stage, with all nine nations medaling across the first five tournaments. There have been five different gold medal winners (Australia, Samoa, South Africa, Argentina and New Zealand), four different silver medalists (Fiji, South Africa, Ireland and New Zealand twice) and four bronze medalists (France, New Zealand, Fiji and USA twice).
New Zealand currently sit atop the Series standings with 85 points, followed by South Africa at 76 points and five nations (Samoa, France, Fiji, Argentina and USA) are separated by just two points between 68 and 66 in the race for the final two spots for Paris 2024.
The USA will look to use their home-field advantage and passionate fans as an added boost when they continue their quest of qualifying for Paris 2024 next year. The Americans have tasted victory twice in front of their home supporters, having won back-to-back cup titles in 2018 and 2019 in Las Vegas before the event moved back to California.
Currently, in seventh place on the Series standings, the Eagles have won two bronze medals this year in Cape Town and Hamilton and sit just two points back of a tie for third place in the race for qualification.
USA men’s captain Kevon Williams said: “The season is at stake this weekend. We’re three points behind third place with the top four qualifying for Paris so this weekend is a real big weekend for us as far as staying in contention for qualifying for the Olympics.
“We’ve been known in the history that this tournament is our best tournament. Whether it’s been in Las Vegas or Los Angeles we’ve always played well at home. The USA has three cup wins and two of them are on home soil so we play big when it comes here.”
The men’s pool draw for Los Angeles sees Sydney champions New Zealand take their place in Pool A alongside Cape Town champions Samoa, hosts USA and invitational team Chile.
New Zealand men’s captain Sam Dickson said: “We know how fast the points situation can change. We started in ninth after Hong Kong so we’ve done well to bounce back and get out front but with six tournaments left anything can happen so we’ll be giving it our best this weekend to stay on top.”
Dubai champions South Africa slot into Pool B alongside Ireland, Uruguay and Canada.
Sydney bronze medal winners Fiji lead Pool C and will face off against Hong Kong champions Australia, Kenya and Japan.
France, who currently sit fourth in the Series standings, are joined by Great Britain, Hamilton champions Argentina and Spain in Pool D.
The stakes couldn’t be higher at the bottom end of the men’s Series this season as well. Following the penultimate event in Toulouse, the 15th ranked team will be relegated to the 2024 Sevens Challenger Series while the 12th through 14th ranked teams will face off against the Sevens Challenger Series 2023 winner for the 12th and final position on the 2024 Series.
Canada captain Phil Berna said: “One good tournament is all you need to get some momentum going and we’ve been telling ourselves not to stress too much about the end of the season so we’ll take it one game and one tournament at a time. We have a job to do here this weekend and we know the better we do this weekend the better position we put ourselves in Vancouver at our home tournament so our focus is on LA.”
The action gets under way on Saturday at 09:15 local time (GMT-8) when Great Britain takes on Argentina and the final match of day one kicks off at 19:03 with South Africa facing off against Ireland.
Play begins on finals day on Sunday at 08:55 with the 9th place quarter-finals and the gold medal final scheduled for 17:28.
Rugby sevens fans around the world can watch the action via live stream on World Rugby digital platforms including www.world.rugby, You Tube and Facebook in countries where there is no national broadcaster covering the event.
As part of the captains’ photo, the captains were interviewed by participants from HSBC’s World of Opportunity Programme, a global initiative from HSBC that gives young people with an interest in working in sport the opportunity to get invaluable insight into sporting careers that lie beyond the field.
The young adults taking part in the programme are all from the LA area and were sourced in partnership with the Todd Clever Foundation. HSBC ambassador and former USA Rugby Sevens international Todd Clever supports communities across America by providing opportunities for athletes, coaches, and teams while instilling the values of the sport. The participants took part in a series of sessions hosted by Clever, HSBC ambassador and USA Rugby Sevens international Abby Gustaitis and World Rugby.
As part of the partnership with the Todd Clever Foundation, there will also be a Donation Wall at the Dignity Health Sports Park, where kit, funds and equipment will be donated towards supporting local rugby clubs and organizations.
Los Angeles will host the 2028 Olympic Games, which will see rugby sevens’ fourth appearance at the Games since the sport’s debut at the Rio 2016 Games. – www.world.rugby