Will New Zealand dominate again? Can South Africa rediscover the form that made them such a threat? Are double Olympic champions Fiji on course for a hat-trick of golds at Paris 2024? Do ‘misfits’ Australia have what it takes? Or is this France’s year, ahead of ‘their’ Olympics?
There are too many variables between Dubai in December and Paris in August to answer the big questions definitively. But here’s what we can expect from each of the men’s teams competing in HSBC SVNS 2024.
Coach: Tomasi Cama
Captain: Sione Molia
Best previous finish: Champions (1999-2000, 2000-01, 2001-02, 2002-03, 2003-04, 2004-05, 2006-07, 2007-08, 2010-11, 2011-12, 2012-13, 2013-14, 2020, 2023)
New Zealand are the most dominant nation in the history of sevens rugby. It’s difficult to imagine this year being any different. Immense physicality that characterises their forward play is complemented by livewire backs who hotstep their way around the pitch.
All players off the production line (their strength in depth is unrivalled) look as if they were born to play rugby, whether that’s Tim Mikkelson adding to his 450 games, or Codemeru Vai who debuted last year. A statement of their quality of player highlighted by two men nominated for World Rugby Sevens Men’s Player of the Year, Akuila Rokolisoa and Leroy Carter.
Tomasi Cama takes the reins as head coach after previously working under Clark Laidlaw as assistant. Another series title would look nice in their overflowing trophy cabinet but the biggest goal must surely be Olympic Gold after losing in the final to Fiji in Tokyo in 2021.
Coach: Santiago Gómez Cora
Captain: Santiago Álvarez Fourcade
Best previous finish: Second (2023)
2022/23 will go down as the season that Argentina arrived as contenders. After years of building, the stardust of players like Marcos Moneta, Luciano González and Matias Ozadiuk unlocked new heights for Los Pumas 7s.
They took home gold in three tournaments last season, finishing the series as runners-up. Their entertaining blend of brutal power and top-drawer skill was a joy to behold, especially for vocal Argentinian supporters.
Rodrigo Isgró comes in as the main man after he took home the accolade of World Rugby Men’s sevens Player of the Year, an achievement that was suitably backed up by his inclusion in the Los Pumas men’s Rugby World Cup 2023 squad.
Coach: Ben Gollings
Best previous finish: Winners (2005-06, 2014-15, 2015-16, 2019)
The flying Fijians’ unique brand of sevens rugby make them the most entertaining team on the circuit. Fijian players possess the ability to manipulate their bodies through and around would-be tacklers. The way they string together offloads gives their attack a beautifully chaotic flow.
Joseva Talacolo, a tall, striding offloading machine, defies all sorts of rules of engagement. There are always youngsters and newcomers waiting in the wings for Fiji and two in particular might shine this year in the form of Ilikimi Vunaki and Rubeni Kabu.
After a disappointing year last season there will be high pressure from the island faithful to deliver silverware in a big year. The two-time Olympic champions are seeking a hat-trick of gold medals in Paris.
Coach: John Manenti
Captain: Nick Malouf
Best previous finish: Champions (2022)
Labelled ‘the misfits’, the tough abrasive Australian men’s squad have the experienced Wallaby Michael Hooper joining them for the season. He will add clout at the defensive breakdown, already an area of strength.
The wonderfully smooth Dietrich Roach will continue to orchestrate the attack this year, along with Maurice Longbottom, a nuisance for any opposition defence.
Nick Malouf captains the side once again. He steers his troops with a calmness that could be crucial if they are to consistently compete for medals, a feat they are well capable of.
Coach: Jérome Daret
Captain: Paulin Riva
Best previous finish: Fourth (2023)
France achieved an historic high finish of fourth in the standings last season. In order to assert themselves as genuine medal contenders ahead of a home Olympics in the summer of 2024 they will want to taste tournament victory for the first time since 2005.
France have started to attack by keeping the ball alive with offloads galore and playing with a freedom of expression that more closely fits their rugby tradition.
The cool customer that is Aaron Grandidier-Nkanang will want to keep scoring on the wing. Inside him, match minutes will be eaten up by elder statesman Jonathan Laugel, and dependable Varian Pasquet.
An already strong squad, they are getting some help from the best scrum half in the world of XVs, Antoine Dupont. The poster boy of rugby joins the squad in January, hoping to fulfil an Olympic Dream with France 7s.
Coach: Mike Friday
Captain: Ben Pinkelman
Best previous finish: Second (2019)
The sparkle of Olympic year was enough to entice Madison Hughes and Ben Pinkelman back to the squad this season after self-imposed absences. Both USA 7s captains in previous years they will add huge experience. Hughes will look to take over playmaking duties to bring the best out of phenomenal athletes around him such as the 37-year-old legend Perry Baker.
The ‘grind em down’ attack tactics make for plenty of ball movement across the full width. Add in a defence led by Stephen Tomasin’s tackle-jackal antics and they become a rounded team who are difficult to beat. They will be fuelled by the fire of a disappointing 10th-place finish last season.
Coach: James Topping
Captain: Harry McNulty
Best previous finish: Fifth (2022)
What’s next for a side with one of the swiftest rises in sport? Expect more tries out wide from this team as World Rugby Player of the Year from 2021 Terry Kennedy returns to reignite his partnership with Jordan Conroy in the backline and build on their fruitful combination of previous years.
Harry McNulty will captain this year. He will likely play almost all minutes for his side and pops up all over the field. He also runs a lineout that is one of the best on the tour.
Coach: Paco Hernández
Best previous finish: Ninth (2021)
Under the leadership of young coach, former Leones 7s captain, Paco Hernández, this team will push opposition to the limit.
Swerving, weaving runners and a fizzing passing game make Spain sing in attack as they maintain possession for long portions of the game. Manu Moreno and experienced campaigner Pol Pla are often the difference-makers.
Occasionally out-gunned last year, they will savour their status at the top table going into this new season after avoiding the relegation scrap last time by the narrowest of points margins.
Coach: Tony Roques
Captain: Robbie Fergusson
Best previous finish: Second (2021)
The experienced pair of Olympians Alex Davis and Robbie Fergusson will lead this year's Great Britain team. With the first full year on the circuit as GB last year they will be hoping to benefit from some embedded combinations. That said, the small squad size could make life difficult for them if they pick up some injuries.
Olympian and former Stade Francais centre Harry Glover returns to the team this year for some more one-handed miracle work. They will look to Max McFarland to come up trumps with some tries. Expect Ethan Waddleton and Jamie Barden to be the ruthless roaming ball-stealing defenders.
Coach: Brian Lima
Captain: Vaovasa Afa Sua
Best previous finish: Champions (2009-10)
Samoa will hit often and hit hard. That goes for attack and defence. Not just in the physical contact but in their ability to punish any weakness swiftly.
Va’afauese Apelu Maliko chalked up the most tries of anyone last season, his high hit rate resulting from speed and exceptional power. He leads the charge for the boys in blue from the Pacific. Alongside him it's the small-statured playmakers that light it up; Paul-Eti Slater, Paul Scanlan and Faafoi Falaniko who direct traffic in the mid-field.
Ever present in and around the competitive teams, Samoa will want to add to the tournament trophy they won in Cape Town last year. Somewhat of a sleeping giant, there will be some high hopes for this Samoa side.
Coach: Sandile Ngcobo
Captain: Selvyn Davids
Best previous finish: Champions (2008-09, 2016-17, 2018, 2021)
The spine of the Blitzbokke is their combination of playmaking superstars like Dewald Human, Justin Geduld and Selvyn Davids who will captain the side at the start of this year. These hot-stepping superstars are re-joined by speedster Rosko Specman and his frenetic footwork.
They are yet to formulate the strong identity of their teams of previous years but ferocious defence will, in part, characterise this team. Their report card off the back of last year would certainly have read ‘must do better’.
Coach: Sean White
Best previous finish: Fourth (2021)
Buoyed by last year’s great relegation escape, Canada will be hoping they can recreate some of the play they only rediscovered at the end of the season. It featured decisive running in the mid-field from power forward Matt Oworu and skillful interplay driven by Thomas Isherwood.
Phil Berna will continue to lean into his Olympic experience to lead the relatively inexperienced group around him. They will need to improve their execution and make brave decisions in attack to unlock opposition defences.
By Tom Mitchell