At the end of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2016-17, 11 places were still up for grabs in the men’s competition at RWC Sevens 2018 with eight remaining in the women’s.
All men’s quarter-finalists from RWC Sevens 2013 in Moscow (New Zealand, England, Fiji, Kenya, South Africa, Wales, Australia and France) and all four women’s semi-finalists (New Zealand, Canada, Spain and USA) qualified automatically for the 2018 edition of the tournament as had hosts, the USA men.
While, under the agreed qualification process, the top four men's teams outside of those in the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2016-17 (Scotland, Canada, Argentina and Samoa) and the top four women’s teams (Australia, Fiji, Russia and France), had booked their places too, leaving the rest to fight it out among themselves in a series of regional qualification tournaments. Now, after several months of full-on competition, only the two spots from the Sudamérica Rugby Men’s Sevens Championship remain to be filled.
We take a look at how the teams in both the men’s and women’s regional qualifiers successful negotiated their way to San Francisco.
Regional qualification tournament: Rugby Africa Sevens Championship
Uganda and Zimbabwe qualified for Rugby World Cup Sevens 2018 after reaching the Rugby Africa Sevens Championship final in Kampala on the first Saturday in October. The Rugby Cranes Sevens were crowned African champions for the second year in a row, albeit only after a last-gasp try from Adrian Kasito saw them come from behind to triumph 10-7 to the delight of the home fans at Legends Sports Ground. It will be the first Rugby World Cup Sevens appearance for Uganda and a fifth for Zimbabwe, who appeared at the 1997, 2001, 2009 and 2013 tournaments.
Qualified: Uganda and Zimbabwe
A few weeks earlier, in the town of Jemmal, near Monastir in eastern Tunisia, South Africa’s women made it through to their third Rugby World Cup Sevens tournament as African champions after overcoming main rivals Kenya 17-12 in a topsy-turvy final. Both finalists topped their respective pools with three wins apiece, Kenya qualifying for the knockout stages as number one seeds thanks to their superior points tally, but the defending champions prevailed when it mattered most to take the regional crown – and the single ticket on offer for RWC Sevens 2018 – for the fifth year in a row.
Qualified: South Africa
Regional qualification tournament: Asia Rugby Sevens Series
Japan won the first title on offer in Hong Kong and then reached the final of the remaining two tournaments, in Korea and Sri Lanka, to top the standings and clinch their place in San Francisco. Korea did what Hong Kong failed to do and win on home soil in the second leg, after a famous 17-12 victory over Japan, to move into second place in the overall standings as the series reached its final destination of Colombo. But Korea failed to medal in the series finale, while Hong Kong came good at the end with a sudden-death, extra-time win over Japan seeing them clinch the Sri Lanka Sevens title and maintain their ever-present record at Rugby Sevens World Cups as series runners-up.
Qualified: Japan and Hong Kong
With plenty of players involved in Women’s Rugby World Cup 2017, a truncated series took place with tournaments in Korea and Sri Lanka. Japan beat China in the final of both, 19-14 and 10-5, as both countries qualified for RWC Sevens 2018, ahead of Kazakhstan in third and Hong Kong in fourth.
Qualified: Japan and China
Regional qualification tournament: Rugby Europe Sevens Grand Prix Series
Defending Rugby Europe Sevens Grand Prix Series champions Russia and competition debutants Ireland each won two tournaments apiece to finish as the top-two ranked sides and progress through to next year’s showpiece event. Ireland marked their promotion to this level with a tremendous win in the first tournament in Moscow, before Russia bounced back, taking the Lodz Sevens title in Poland despite losing their opening game to Wales. Russia, Ireland and Spain could not be separated at the top of the standings, tied on 36 points, as the series moved on to Clermont-Ferrand in France. But Ireland edged in front by claiming the third piece of silverware on offer, two tries from Jack Conroy helping them overcome Russia in the final. Then, it was on to Sandy Park in Exeter. Russia and Ireland knew they had done enough to make it to San Francisco once their only qualification rivals Spain had lost 21-14 to neighbours Portugal in the Cup quarter-finals. Ireland fell at the semi-final stage, while Russia overcame stiff resistance from Wales to win the final 17-12 and retain their series title.
Qualified: Russia and Ireland
Ireland’s women ensured there was double cause for celebration as they sealed qualification with a second-place series finish behind Russia, who had already qualified for RWC Sevens 2018 thanks to their performances on the HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series. Fourth-place was enough for England to join Ireland in San Francisco as the second European qualifier because France, in third, had already qualified. While Russia were the dominant team, winning both the Malemort Sevens in France and then the Kazan title on home soil, Ireland showed great consistency to win bronze in both, capping a fine season in which they also achieved a best-ever finish of ninth on the world series. England were beaten to third place by Ireland in Malemort, but they reached the final in Kazan, losing 24-0 to the host nation, to ensure they finished comfortably ahead of nearest qualification rivals Wales.
Qualified: Ireland and England
Regional qualification tournament: Rugby Americas North Championship
With just one qualifying spot up for grabs in the Rugby Americas North region, the competition was always going to be fierce as the best teams gathered in the heart of Mexico City knowing that RWC Sevens 2018 qualification was on the line. Six-time champions Guyana and hosts Mexico, winners when the event was last staged in Mexico City in 2014, went into the round-robin competition as favourites but it was Jamaica who claimed the ticket on offer after a try from Conan Osbourne with the last play of the game broke Guyanese hearts in a nerve-racking final. The Reggae Crocs Sevens can now look forward to their first appearance on the Rugby World Cup Sevens stage.
The women’s event also came to a dramatic conclusion as Mexico beat Trinidad and Tobago in their final match thanks to a try from evergreen captain Dany Rosales. A 26-14 loss to French Guyana in their second match of the round-robin competition had left Mexico’s hopes of qualification hanging by a thread but wins over Jamaica, Bermuda and Guyana, in addition to their earlier success over the Dominican Republic meant Mexico’s destiny was still in their own hands going into the final clash against Trinidad and Tobago. And, to the delight of the partisan home crowd inside the Campo Marte complex, they kept their nerve to win 5-0.
Regional qualification tournament: Sudamérica Rugby Sevens Championship
Two rounds to be played over consecutive weekends in January 2018, first in Punta del Este in Uruguay on 6-7 January and then Reñaca in Chile the following weekend.
Brazil confirmed their place at RWC Sevens 2018 – and underlined their regional superiority – by claiming their 13th Sudamérica Rugby Sevens Femenino title in Montevideo, Uruguay. Expertly led by veterans Paula Ishibashi and Baby Futuro, Brazil went through the tournament unbeaten and scored 245 points in their six games, only conceding one try against Paraguay and two more in the final game, against the until-then unbeaten Argentina. Peru exceeded expectations to finish in third place ahead of hosts Uruguay and Chile.
Regional qualification tournament: Oceania Rugby Sevens Championship and Pacific Mini Games (men’s), Oceania Rugby Sevens Championship (women’s)
Tonga secured the final Oceania qualifying spot at Rugby World Cup Sevens 2018 after beating the Solomon Islands to take bronze in rugby sevens at the Pacific Mini Games in Vanuatu earlier this month. With the two finalists, Samoa and Fiji, already qualified either through their performance at RWC Sevens 2013 or last season’s HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series, Tonga and the Solomon Islands knew the value of their third-place match – not only was there a Games medal at stake but the qualification position was also up for grabs. The high stakes contributed to a fractious affair that saw two players on either side carded, one red in the case of Tonga, who held on despite the one-man disadvantage to win 24-19. Samoa successfully defended their title with a 14-7 win over Fiji in the final. A few weeks earlier, Papua New Guinea became the first nation to successfully come through the Oceania qualification process as the highest non-qualified team at the Oceania Rugby Sevens Championship in Suva. A 32-0 win over the Cook Islands ensured them fifth place behind champions Fiji, New Zealand, Australia – who they had narrowly lost 22-21 to in the quarter-finals – and Samoa.
Qualified: Papua New Guinea and Tonga
Papua New Guinea's women, led by Joanne Lagona, wrote their names into the history books as their nation's first Rugby World Cup Sevens qualifiers after the opening day’s play at ANZ Stadium in Suva in November, a place in the semi-finals guaranteeing their position as the highest ranked team behind the already qualified Oceania Rugby Sevens champions New Zealand, Australia and Fiji.
Qualified: Papua New Guinea
For more information on RWC Sevens 2018, including how to buy tickets, visit rwcsevens.com.