The World Sevens Series events will be back at full-tilt at the Emirates Dubai Sevens on Friday and Saturday, for the first time since the start of the Covid pandemic.
Two years ago, the Sevens was cancelled entirely for the first time in a history that stretches back over half a century.
Last year, the most popular event on the Middle East rugby landscape returned – but not all teams were able to make it because of travel limitations.
When it returns over this National Day weekend, the international men’s event will be restored to 16 teams, up from 12 last year, while the women’s event will be back up to 12.
That is the apex of a competition pyramid, which will involve over 4,500 participants across rugby, netball and cricket, as well as a new fitness challenge.
Which teams are playing?
Some of the most recognisable faces at the Sevens are actually those participating in the invitational tournaments beyond the main stadium – most notably in the International Vets.
Dafydd James, the former Wales and British & Irish Lions wing, will captain a star-studded team called 100 World Legends.
Last year, they had the series’ record point-scorer, Ben Gollings, as their coach. Since he has gone on to take charge of Fiji instead, they have replaced him with the most celebrated figure in sevens, Waisale Serevi.
No home nations rivalry - again
One of the features in years past was the rivalry between England, Scotland and Wales supporters in the stands around Pitch 1.
That has been dissipated in recent times, though. Instead, they all have to tolerate each other as the three unions have joined forces to form a Great Britain team – as happened in Dubai for the first time last year.
In July, World Rugby confirmed that will be the case going forward. The GB teams will participate on the men’s and women’s World Series as they ready themselves for the 2024 Paris Olympics.
This series season will serve as qualification for the Olympics. The top four sides will qualify directly.
Who are the defending champions?
South Africa have raised the men’s trophy five out of the last six times in Dubai. That included twice last season, when tournaments were played on back-to-back weekends as the World Series attempted to cope with the continue travel complications after Covid.
The rest of the field might have some belief that the Bok stranglehold could be broken. They only finished eighth in the first leg of this year’s series, in Hong Kong in November.
In the women’s tournament, Australia also won back-to-back titles in Dubai last year.
Men’s World Sevens Series
Pool A - Australia, South Africa, Great Britain, Kenya
Pool B – Fiji, Argentina, New Zealand, Uruguay
Pool C – France, Ireland, Spain, Uganda
Pool D - Samoa, USA, Canada, Japan
Women’s World Sevens Series
Pool A - Australia, USA, Canada, China
Pool B - France, New Zealand, Great Britain, Brazil
Pool C - Fiji, Ireland, Spain, Japan
After one event of the 11-leg World Sevens Series, Australia have the lead, after winning the title in Hong Kong.
Eighteen invitational competitions for a variety of ranges and abilities get underway on the outside fields at The Sevens, starting at 8am on Thursday.
A day later, the Women’s World Sevens Series competition starts at 9am with Ireland playing Spain. The Men’s World Sevens Series tournament starts at 10.06am when United States face Canada on Pitch 1.
All fixtures are available here.
General admission tickets remain available for all three days. Prices range from Dh375 for a day pass for adults to Dh475 for a season pass.
Tickets are available online here.