HSBC SVNS 2024 MAD: Grand Final is "anybody’s game", says ex-Fiji coach Ben Gollings

The English sevens legend joined Luke Norman to preview the men's tournament at the HSBC SVNS 2024 Grand Final in Madrid – and give his expert assessment of the competition's first season.

For undisputed sevens legend Ben Gollings, one absolutely critical thing stands out about the inaugural men's HSBC SVNS season.

“Everybody has got to play for everything all of the time,” Gollings said. “One game off can really hurt a team in this new format.” 

The Englishman knows what he is talking about. He was dismissed as head coach of the Fiji men’s team after overseeing a run of results in the first five HSBC SVNS 2024 tournaments that read: fourth, third, fourth, sixth, sixth. 

“From being in it and then looking from the outside, you’ve certainly got one of the things you were looking for, which is the jeopardy,” Gollings said, without any bitterness. “Some really interesting results and everything is pretty close. 

“It’s interesting, there’s not been one team that’s had complete consistency. You would say Argentina (men’s League Winners) has been up there but a lot of teams have been up one minute and down the next. 

“Trying to pick winners is not straightforward.” 

‘Anybody’s game’ in Madrid

This is only brought into even sharper focus by the Grand Final in Madrid. Gollings knows he has to put his neck on the line and make a prediction, or two. 

But he doesn’t really want to. “It could be any number of teams,” the first player to score more than 2,000 international sevens points said laughing. 

“If I was to pick, you could end up seeing an Argentina-New Zealand final,” he went on, before attempting to insert a cable of caveats as he examined the stacked pools. 

“South Africa just started to look like they were getting some form in the last tournament. Considering it’s a straight hit-out, top two go through to the semi-final, on paper at the moment, you would argue Ireland and New Zealand [in Pool B] would be favourites based on form but you know both South Africa and Fiji could cause an upset. 

“In the other pool, Argentina would be more of a guarantee [to get to the semi-finals] but then your next three, GB, France and Australia, it’s anybody’s game.” 

Promotion-relegation playoffs unmissable

Gollings expected to be steering Fiji towards a tilt at the title in Madrid, ahead of a defence of their Olympic crown. And while matters did not work out as he wanted – “I feel we were going in the right direction but things are sometimes taken on results” – the 44-year-old will keep a close eye on sevens events in the Spanish capital. 

In particular, he is riveted by one of the boldest of the SVNS initiatives. 

“It’s high stakes,” Gollings said of the promotion-relegation tournament between the bottom four teams from the main HSBC SVNS 2024 standings and the top four from the World Rugby HSBC Sevens Challenger.  

“There’s a huge amount riding on these games, probably more than what some people sometimes see. They can be programme-makers or programme-breakers. 

“There is a lot to play for and it adds to the pressure these teams have to manage.” 

Dominant defences

A combination of this focus on each and every game, plus the new 12-team format has driven an evolution in style, according to Gollings – one he is a cautious fan of. 

“The defence has become a lot stronger and there’s different tactics being used. Ultimately, what you are seeing is people have moved away from the more traditional sweeper, six-and-one type defence to a more seven-up defence, a more high-pressure defence,” he explained.

“This, then, means the contact area, which has always been an interesting area in sevens, is really key. 

“What you are seeing certain teams do is, they are not necessarily playing a glamorous game of sevens but they are playing an effective game where they are keeping the ball really well and they are stopping their opponents being able to get hold of it.” 

He cites the top two men’s league finishers, Argentina and Ireland, as the most successful exponents of this compact style. Once you sprinkle on the stardust of Marcos Moneta – “a class act” – and Rodrigo Isgro – “very hard to stop in the tackle” – it is the former that are the team to beat, according to Gollings. 

Paris prep

The Olympic-shaped mirage hovering the other side of Madrid only adds to the Final’s allure. Coach Gollings, who will be plying his trade at the Amsterdam Sevens at the time, loves the fact the two tournaments bleed into one another. 

“The fact of the matter is that they’re all really must-win games,” Gollings said. “It’s the pressure you are going to play in at the Olympic Games, people are going to want to use it.” 

Add on the recent steady growth of the Olympic host’s team, and men’s sevens is in pretty good shape. 

“I do enjoy watching France,” said Gollings, who would advocate for the introduction of a four-try bonus point for the next SVNS season.

“Their game, and it culminated with winning a tournament [Los Angeles], has really developed. They are a tough team to play against when they get it right.” 

See the HSBC SVNS champions crowned in Madrid, 31 May-2 June. Tickets from €10 are available to purchase here