SVNS 2024: Previews of all 12 women's teams
The 2024 Sevens (or SVNS as it’s now known), season will see the women’s teams play a record eight rounds and, for the first time, have full parity with the men – same events, same number of teams, same participation fees, and same venues.
With the season about to begin and the Paris 2024 Olympics on the horizon, Rikki Swannell runs her eye over the 12 teams in the women’s competition.
Passport to Paris: Yes – qualification comfortably secured as a top-four finisher last season.
After dominating the Covid-impacted 2022 season Australia will have learned a lot from their 2023 campaign.
Tim Walsh’s young team hit a few bumps last season and some of the newcomers faced a couple of setbacks for the first time in an Aussie jumper, most notably when they fell to a shock fifth place in their home tournament in Sydney. A bit of adversity never hurt anyone and they bounced back well to finish second in two of the final three events.
Australia is perhaps the most athletically talented team and in full flow are at times unstoppable in attack. With Charlotte Caslick and Madison Ashby pulling the strings, Maddison Levi a dominant try-scorer and Sharni Williams lending years of experience, they could be on the cusp of something special.
Passport to Paris: Yes – qualified by winning the South American regional event.
Although they’ve been a core team since 2020, last season was the first full campaign for the Yaras and it came with a lot of hardship.
Knowing there’d be no relegation at the end of the season, Brazil made the choice to try a few new faces, attempted to develop some depth and pushed the players harder in training between tournaments.
It made for a tough season on the field, and the likelihood is that they’ll still find themselves scrapping in the bottom half of the ladder again this season.
Brazil is heavily reliant on a couple of key players, but many have gained experience in the USA and UK in the off-season which will aid their cause, while, as the targeted programme for Brazil Rugby they should hopefully get a bit more financial resources in an Olympic year.
Brazil runs a lean operation and could do with more support around analysis and mental skills to help them reach their full potential.
Passport to Paris: Confirmed by winning the Rugby Americas North qualifier.
It’s been a brutal couple of years since the last Olympics for a team which used to regularly compete in semi-finals, but after a near total rebuild in the past 18 months, there are some promising signs of light for Canada.
With closer collaboration between the 7s and 15s programmes and in part owing to a horrendous injury toll, Canada has been able to grow a deeper pool of players; in the likes of Krissy Scurfield, Piper Logan and Flo Symonds they have unearthed some genuinely exciting game breakers.
The challenge for Canada will be striking the right balance in how they use those players crossing over between the two formats, particularly if 15s star Sophie de Goede is to continue her foray into sevens.
A rookie team which suffered some harsh lessons may now be in a position to at least return regularly to the quarter-finals and hopefully beyond.
Olympics: Yes – qualified through the Oceania tournament
Fiji can cut any team apart in the blink of an eye and since their extraordinary run to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic final have become a fitter, more disciplined and tactically astute side.
However, they struggled to hit the same heights last season as they did in 2022 when they won silver at the Commonwealth Games, and perhaps looked a little tired at times – many of the squad went straight from the Comm Games to the 15s World Cup and straight back into another sevens campaign.
A decent off-season and with the pressure of Olympic qualification off their shoulders, expect Fiji to be a threat again and the brilliant Reapi Ulunisau front and centre.
Passport to Paris: Locked in as the host nation.
Hmmmm France. Always there or thereabouts but never quite able to finish off, it beggars belief that France have never won a World Series tournament. You get the feeling that they wouldn’t care if they don’t win one this season either with eyes firmly on the biggest prize of an Olympic gold medal on home soil.
France blooded a handful of new players in 2023, cleverly adding two or three youngsters to the squad at each event to give them World Series experience and have built plenty of depth with a well-resourced programme since winning silver in Tokyo.
With key player Shannon Izar due back from a serious knee injury and 2021 world player of the year Anne-Cecile Ciofani hopefully back in the frame after a dreadful injury run, France, a regular top four contender should once again be contesting at the pointy end of tournaments.
Passport to Paris: Stamped. GB secured their place by winning the European Championships.
Great Britain’s first full season after the amalgamation of England, Wales and Scotland had some really bright moments given how quickly they had to come together. GBs players have been pulled from pillar to post in the past few years and haven’t had a permanent training base, yet there’s enough quality in the squad to make them regular quarter-finalists in 2023.
The trick now is to turn the one semi-final they reached in 2023 (in Hong Kong) into a regular occurrence this season while also balancing a squad of players who also get significant opportunities in the XVs game. Built around a strong core of experienced players, GB is bursting with pace and players with genuine x-factor.
The key for GB is to take control in the middle of the field to allow their speedsters space to flourish and convert all of those quarter-final appearances into semis and hopefully beyond.
Passport to Paris: Locked in by finishing 5th in the series last year – with hosts France finishing 4th, Ireland took the last automatic spot.
With a rollercoaster 2023 behind them and a first-ever Olympic qualification secured, Ireland can set about becoming a genuine finals contender week in week out this season.
While they reached the quarters at every event in 2023, closing out big wins in big matches remains an Achilles heel and they at times struggled for consistency.
Having previously relied heavily on Amee-Leigh Murphy-Crowe, Stacey Flood, Eve Higgins and their talismanic captain Lucy Mulhall, Ireland have built much more depth in their squad and players like Megan Burns, Erin King and Beibhinn Parsons have shown they can take the load off that senior foursome.
As an aside, GAA star and AFLW player Vikki Wall is a fascinating addition to the wider squad. There should be high hopes that 2024 is the season Ireland put it all together and become a real force.
Passport to Paris: Booked the last spot from the regional qualifying tournaments by winning their Olympic qualifying tournament.
Japan had their best season in 2023, reaching their first-ever quarter-final in Hamilton, backing it up a week later in Sydney and then securing their highest-ever tournament finish with fifth place in the season finale in Toulouse.
Japan will always give up size to other teams, but they’re well-organised, well-disciplined and technically precise; as they’ve gained more experience against the top sides their game nous has improved and with a thriving domestic league, their players get a lot of opportunities to actually play.
Captain Yume Hirano is their creator and key to much of what they do, while Mei Ohtani was a standout last season and Wakaba Hara has out and out pace and is a quality finisher.
If they can build on last season and continue to push for quarter-final places again, they’ll win plenty of fans with their enjoyable brand of rugby.
Passport to Paris: Secured their place by virtue of top four position in 2023.
It seems strange to say of the most dominant team in the history of women’s sevens, but New Zealand has somewhat flown under the radar in the off-season.
There’s been no big training camps or pre-season matches, some players took sabbatical or career development opportunities overseas while others just quietly went about their business at home…which tends to be the way the kiwis like it.
The squad is full of the same names you know who have performed time and time again as well as the newer faces like Jorja Miller and Risi Pouri-Lane who were instrumental in helping New Zealand to six of seven tournament wins and another series championship last season.
Newly named World Rugby Sevens Player of the Year Tyla Nathan-Wong will be absent for at least the first two tournaments after opting to play rugby league over the past few months, and at the time of writing was off contract with New Zealand Rugby.
Like every season, the Black Ferns will start with an enormous target on their back…they’ve repelled all comers for years so it’s on the other 11 teams to find a crack in the armour and put New Zealand under a new level of pressure.
Passport to Paris: Secured their place by winning the African qualifier.
After a few years of trying, South Africa earned their status as a core team for the first time by dominating the two-legged challenger series earlier in the year. It’s a credit to the growth of their women’s high performance programme, headed by the remarkable Lynne Cantwell, that having set their sights on achieving a place on the World Series they’ve been able to put the steps in place to do so in fine fashion. Now the hard work starts.
Like some other sides, South Africa have mixed and matched their players between the 7s and 15s programmes and how they handle that load of week-in, week-out rugby will be a big challenge as they make the step up to playing the top sides on a regular basis.
A lot will rest with noted try-scorer Nadine Roos as they find their feet in the early stages of the season, but South Africa has barely scratched the surface of their talent pool and are sure to unearth some exciting new names.
Passport to Paris: Cannot qualify.
The heydays of Barbara Pla, Patricia Garcia and their famous win over the Black Ferns in 2015 are a long way in the rearview mirror for Spain, who have struggled to keep pace with fitter, stronger, faster teams in the past few years.
Consistency of selection will go a long way to helping them this season after some chopping and changing in 2023, although that allowed a handful of new, young players to experience what it takes to compete against the top sides.
They’ve also had an unsettled time on the coaching front with long-time coach Pedro de Matias standing down in April only for the federation deciding not to renew the contract of his replacement Ignacio Martin.
Former Alberto Socias is now guiding the team, while they’re also boosted by the return of Lide Erbina for the first time since 2020.
Passport to Paris: Booked by virtue of their third place finish last season.
2023 saw USA return to the sort of form that had many rating them as a genuine contender prior to the 2020 Olympics. Their Tokyo campaign came unstuck early, but under new coach Emilie Bydwell, USA has found their feet again and showed they will challenge once more.
Third overall in 2023, they reached two tournament finals with a game based on patience, power and staunch defence, while also showing a steel under pressure.
With Ilona Maher and Jaz Gray fit again after missing parts of last season, players like Alena Olsen and Kayla Canett looking increasingly assured at the top level and veteran experience sprinkled throughout the squad, USA start the new season in a position to really threaten New Zealand and Australia once again.
After their success in 2023 they should be primed to step up another gear.
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