World Rugby has announced a new look men’s and women’s HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series which include at least six combined men’s and women’s events, as the women’s series increases to eight rounds for the first time in its history over the next four-year cycle.
Dubai, Cape Town, New Zealand, Sydney, Hong Kong and Paris will host combined men’s and women’s sevens events from next season onwards as part of the next four-year world series hosting cycle.
In the women’s series the USA Women’s Sevens will again be hosted in Glendale, Colorado, with Langford, in British Colombia, Canada, also remaining as a standalone event next season.
In addition, nine out of ten host locations for the next four-year cycle of the men’s HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2019-2023 have also been confirmed.
As popularity and profile of rugby sevens continues to grow both on and off the field, boosted by Olympic inclusion, World Rugby saw unprecedented global interest, receiving over 20 expressions of interest from member unions, as part of the highly competitive tender process.
Nine existing men’s world series destinations; Dubai, Cape Town, Hamilton, Sydney, Vancouver, Hong Kong, Singapore, London and Paris are set to feature again as part of the next four-year cycle, with the host location in the US to be confirmed at a later stage in the season.
Player welfare and travel blocks continue to be an important component of the tender considerations alongside delivery of high-performance facilities and overall ability to contribute to the key strategic growth of the Series.
The Dubai Sevens, which has featured as a host venue since the inaugural series in 1999 and a combined event since 2012, remains linked with Cape Town, a newly announced combined men’s and women’s event, which has seen phenomenal success as a host venue since relocating from Port Elizabeth at the beginning of the last four-year cycle in 2015.
Hamilton, the newest venue on the men’s series having hosted its inaugural event in 2018, becomes a new combined event for both men’s and women’s teams. Sydney and Vancouver, both newcomers to the men’s series calendar having been appointed in 2015, also retaining their host venue status, with Sydney remaining as a combined event.
In Asia, seasoned world series hosts Hong Kong expands to a combined series round and will again be linked with Singapore, which remains a men’s standalone round, who earned host venue rights as part of the competition’s expansion in 2015.
London and Paris are also confirmed as the European hosts for the next four years with Paris set to again host both men’s and women’s series from next season onwards.
World Rugby chairman Sir Bill Beaumont said: “This is an exciting time for sevens as the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series is set to break new ground with more combined rounds than ever before on the circuit, as Cape Town, Hamilton and Hong Kong welcome women’s world series teams for the first time from next season.
“We are delighted to see the women’s series expand to eight rounds over the next four-year cycle, a historic move that will provide more high quality competitive international playing opportunities for women’s sevens teams, a core strand of our ‘accelerating the global development of women in rugby’ plan.
“For the men’s series the selected hosts represent a consistent balance of long-established and newer venues, with the five host unions who joined in 2015 retaining their host status.
“Since the men’s series expansion to 10 rounds in 2015, we have seen the competition become increasingly competitive on the pitch from a team perspective while also continuing to grow in popularity among global audiences.
“We are looking forward to seeing continued growth and evolution of the world series in each territory over the next four years.”
Rugby sevens continues to grow, engage and attract global audiences. In 2018 the world series saw record-breaking fan engagement figures with an increase of 60 per cent across video views when compared with 2017 and attracted over 749,800 attendees to events globally.
The growth trend continued in broadcast viewing figures with Nielsen research recording a 39 per cent increase in live broadcast audiences across both men’s and women’s series, from nine million in 2017 to 12.6 million viewers in 2018.
Next season’s series will be vital as qualified core men’s and women’s teams prepare to compete not only on the world series but also at the Olympic Games which takes place from 27 July- 1 August at Tokyo Stadium.
With the newly expanded women’s series, qualified teams will have more high quality, competitive playing opportunities than ever before as they prepare to participate at Tokyo 2020.
The full men’s and women’s HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2019/20 schedule and dates will be confirmed at a later stage in 2019.
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Dragons – favourites last year but beaten in an epic to-and-fro contest with Dubai Exiles – went down to a slender 21-19 defeat to Canes in Saturday morning’s semi-final.
Bahrain, meanwhile, defeated by Canes in the quarter-finals a year ago, progressed to the last four this year, only to be beaten 12-10 by Abu Dhabi Harlequins.
“We were gutted to not go all the way as I felt the guys played well enough to win it and deserved more,” Bahrain coach Louie Tonkin said of the efforts of his team.
“But very proud of the way my players conducted themselves and dedicated themselves to the weekend.”
Bahrain finished second behind Mike Wernham’s men in Pool A but said he was happy for the side who last lifted the Gulf Men’s League title in 2007.
“I’m delighted for Canes and it’s great to see them do well. They looked really good, they had a good mix of youth and experience and I just think they had more pace than everyone and were well coached.”
Dragons skipper Ross Samson was disappointed not to reach successive finals, but also offered his congratulations to Canes.
“We were frustrated we didn’t get in to the final, we should have beaten Canes in the semi but fair play to them going on and getting the job done in the final,” he said.
It’s wonderful to see another name engraved onto a winners’ trophy in domestic rugby – different victors have been few and far between in recent years.
Up until April, UAE rugby had been dominated by Abu Dhabi Harlequins and Dubai Exiles over the last four years. The pair had won 14 of expatriate rugby’s 18 trophies since the 2014/15 season.
Jebel Ali Dragons joined the party at the start of 2018 when they hoisted a long overdue piece of silverware – their epic West Asia Premiership victory was a first trophy in four years.
It had been even longer for Bahrain – exiled on the fringes of west Asia – whose West Asia Cup triumph earned them a maiden success after eight barren years.
Last year’s Premiership hinted at an exciting new era of fierce competition ahead. Quins, Exiles, Dragons and Bahrain all went toe-to-toe with one another. In the end Exiles claimed the Dubai Sevens and UAE Premiership double, Dragons won the West Asia Premiership – rugby’s most coveted title – and Bahrain had the West Asia Cup.
Hurricanes? Who are they? They were nowhere to be seen – just good enough to avoid a relegation scrap between Abu Dhabi Saracens and fledgling Dubai Eagles but nowhere near the standard being set by the foursome at the forefront of the domestic game.
But ex-Wales sevens international Matthew Pewtner’s arrival hinted at a shift in a more professional direction – as had the link-up a few years previously with namesake Super Rugby side the Hurricanes, from whom Canes acquired Sam Tufuga and Gerard Faitotoa last October.
Pewtner came in around the same time as backs coach, ambitiously stating he one day hoped to get Canes playing on Pitch 1 in the main Sevens Stadium, where the Gulf Men’s League final is always staged.
Pewtner played with Wales all around the world, but missed out on Dubai twice through injury, so it was ironic he should appear there for the first time as a coach.
Excellent work has also been done by Mike Wernham at Canes. The Englishman is a schoolteacher by profession, which has no doubt helped drill his side into shape during his 22 months in charge.
Treble winners in gulf rugby as recently as 2010/11, Canes have certainly taken a tumble since then.
When the 15s season returns, Bahrain and Quins will remain the two teams to beat in the West Asia Premiership. But while 2018/19 may be a bit soon for Hurricanes to change the forecast on that front, a storm is definitely brewing.