All eyes on Dupont as sevens dream begins in Vancouver

The former World Rugby Men’s 15s Player of the Year is all set for his HSBC SVNS debut as he begins his bid to make the France sevens team for the Olympic Games Paris 2024.

After all the build-up and hype, Antoine Dupont will get the chance to do what he does best in Vancouver this weekend – perform his magic on the rugby field.

France’s captain at Rugby World Cup 2023 passed up the chance to be involved in this year’s  Men’s Six Nations to try and make the cut for the Olympic Games Paris 2024 and that journey starts in earnest at BC Place.

While this is the 27-year-old’s SVNS debut, it is France’s 200th series tournament as a team, so Dupont has experienced figures around him in people like Stephen Parez-Edo Martin and Paulin Riva to guide him through the weekend.

Dupont has been training with Jérôme Daret’s squad over the past few weeks after making his final appearance for his Top 14 club, Toulouse, in their 46-26 victory over Bayonne, where he scored a try and assisted three others.

France have been drawn in Pool B for HSBC SVNS Vancouver alongside Australia, USA and Samoa, with their opening game against USA kicking off at 14:36 local time (GMT-8).

Les Bleus Sevens achieved their best finish of the season in the last tournament in Perth at the end of January but are still only seventh in the overall standings.

Key duo return for Australia

Sitting in third, Australia have real momentum behind them after consecutive runners-up finishes.

Freshly crowned 2023 Australia Men’s Sevens Player of the Year Henry Paterson, who turns 27 the day after the tournament, and Michael Icely will play their first tournaments of the season after overcoming shoulder and ankle injuries respectively.

They'll replace livewire Maurice Longbottom who will miss the tournament as he is managed through a minor calf complaint.

The athletic Darby Lancaster has also returned to his duties with the Melbourne Rebels ahead of the Super Rugby Pacific season kicking off this weekend.

“We’re thrilled to be able to welcome back Henry and Michael to the squad,” said Australia coach John Manenti.

“They’ve both worked extremely hard to get right and earn their selection and not only are they champing at the bit to pull on the gold jersey, but they’re also bringing energy and enthusiasm to the rest of the squad.

“As a group, we’ve been continuing to work hard since returning from Perth, and we know we’ll need to keep improving as we look to build momentum throughout the season.”

Australia begin their Vancouver campaign against Samoa in match four, kick-off 14:58 local time (GMT -8). If they beat the Pacific Islanders, it will be their 700th win in series history.

50 up for North American pair

Dupont’s entrance into the global sevens arena has understandably captured all the headlines but Vancouver will also be a special weekend for two North American stars who’ve graced the scene for the best part of the last decade.

Canada captain Phil Berna will make his 50th SVNS appearance in his hometown of Vancouver this weekend, eight years after his debut, while USA’s Maka Unufe is also set for his half-century.

Samoa head coach, Muliagatele Brian Lima, has named two young rookies in his squad in Des Sepulona and Dan Patelesio.

The squad will be led by captain Vaovasa Afa Su’a with welcome returns for Steve Onosai and Paul Eti Slater.

Stalwart Melani Matavao is unavailable due to commitments with Moana Pasifika, while Paul Scanlan and Levi Milford are ruled out due to injuries sustained in Perth.

Berna’s Canada take to the field in the sixth game when they play runaway HSBC SVNS 2024 leaders and defending Vancouver champions Argentina at 15:42 local time.

Sitting one place off the bottom of the standings in 11th, Canada are up against it as they try to make the top eight and guarantee their presence in HSBC SVNS 2025.

Canada aim to be crowd pleasers

After a disappointing performance in Perth when they finished in 12th, Canada’s men are six points from safety and need an uplift in performance.

“We had a bit of a tough one in Perth results-wise and injuries wise, we lost three key members,” Berna admitted. “I thought I broke my leg at one point and now I’m back training so I’m grateful to be back.”

Still only 27 years of age, Berna has previously been very appreciative of the backing they get at BC Place and will be hoping the fans turn out in good voice again. “There is nothing like playing in Vancouver, the crowd goes crazy for all the Canada games and it just gets you playing on another level.”

Berna will also become the joint record holder for most series appearances in Canada – along with Zain Davids (South Africa), Pol Pla (Spain) and Kevon Williams (USA), drawing level with Scottish international Jamie Farndale on eight tournaments.

Meanwhile, Los Pumas Sevens head to Vancouver with an unchanged squad and looking to build on the momentum of the first three tournaments.

Santiago Gómez Cora’s side have reached the final in every event to date, winning the last two in Cape Town and Perth.

Argentina hold a commanding 14-point lead over nearest rivals Fiji, who they face in their second match. Spain complete the Pool A line-up along with Canada.

Among the notable inclusions in the Fiji squad are debutants, Solomoni Rauqe and Viliame Naikausa.

Additionally, the return of Olympic gold medallist Napolioni Bolaca after a 10-month break post-surgery adds further depth and experience to the team line-up.

Fighting "fire with fire"

Pool C looks impossible to call with the sides ranked fourth, fifth and sixth – South Africa, Ireland and New Zealand – lining up against one another. Great Britain complete the set.

South Africa head coach Sandile Ngcobo says he plans to “fight fire with fire” after naming a much-changed squad for the North American stopovers in Vancouver and Los Angeles.

Impi Visser, Shaun Williams, Rosko Specman, Justin Geduld and Darren Adonis have travelled to North America after missing out on the Australian round in Perth last month, where South Africa finished fifth.

Visser, Specman and Geduld played in the opening two tournaments of the 2024 series in Dubai and Cape Town, but Williams and Adonis will make their first appearances of the season.

Adonis last played in Sydney in 2023 and Williams in London at the end of the previous season.

“We needed to have a fresh squad for this trip as we play back-to-back tournaments,” Ngcobo said.

“Unfortunately, we lost some guys to injury following the Perth tournament, but it also provided us the opportunity to pick a fit and strong squad for the trip.

“Rosko and Justin bring vast experience and ability and Impi returns after missing out on Perth due to a neck strain. We are in a very physical pool, so to have Impi back is great, as we will have to fight fire with fire.”

Webber to also join half-centurion club

A red-hot encounter awaits the Blitzboks first up as they have been scheduled to play New Zealand in a blockbuster opening to the men’s tournament, kick-off 13:52 local time.

Just like Fiji captain Bolaca, Andrew Knewstubb makes a long-awaited return for the All Black Sevens after nearly two years on the sidelines with back-to-back ACL injuries.

The All Blacks Sevens, who will be led by Sam Dickson, also have Joe Webber, Roderick Solo and Amanaki Nicole available to them after injury lay-offs with Webber set for his 50th SVNS tournament.

Ireland welcome back Billy Dardis as one of two changes from Perth while Ed Kelly also comes into the side but his brother, Jack, drops out. Mark Roche is the other man to miss out.

Harry McNulty and Jordan Conroy will move to within one tournament of Roche as Vancouver will be their 30th on the series.

Great Britain have also rung the changes with all three Jamies – Farndale, Barden and Adamson – absent, along with Jordan Edmunds.

Alex Davis and Ross McCann make their 40th series appearances on their return to the 13, while Will Homer and Charlton Kerr also come in.

Take part in all of the on- and off-field action in Vancouver with the HSBC SVNS Predictor Game. Making team and player predictions throughout each weekend, gain points based on their performance and compete against rugby sevens fans from across the world on the global leaderboard.