HSBC World Sevens Series
Why this season's HSBC World Sevens Series will be best yet
Sam Bruce
December 1, 2015
© David Rogers/Getty Images

When Australia and New Zealand battled it out in the first Twenty20 cricket international at Eden Park no-one had any idea as to the juggernaut the sport's fledgling format would become.

Neither side took the game particularly seriously as they donned outfits the style of which were in vogue in the 80s and the New Zealanders sported an array of facial hair that would have done any Movember participant proud.

But just a handful of years later the world's inaugural T20 World Cup had taken place and the Indian Premier League and Australia's Big Bash were in full swing.

T20 cricket has become a phenomenon and the HSBC World Sevens Series may be about to embark on a similar journey, starting in Dubai this weekend with the opening round of the 2015-2016 men's tournament and the first of four women's events.

This is why.

The Olympics

It's been the driving factor behind the rise of Sevens since the International Rugby Board pushed for rugby's participation in the Games for the first time since 1924. Eleven of the 12 participants have been locked in for both the men's and women's events in Rio di Janeiro, and those sides now have 10 rounds to fine-tune skills and fitness for the trip to Brazil.

But the Olympic preparation has been building for some time. Since news broke of Sevens' inclusion for Rio, nations around the world have been pumping up their financial and personnel investment in the pursuit of an Olympic medal.

And while traditional heavyweights Fiji, New Zealand and South Africa again dominated the 2014-2015 series, the improvement from the likes of the United States and Scotland was hard to miss.

The Scots will play no part in the Olympics due to England's automatic qualification - under Great Britain - as one of the top four sides from last year. But the USA, buoyed by their triumph at last year's London Sevens, will be desperate to continue their rise throughout the 2015-2016 series.

The final spot for both the men's and women's Olympic events will be filled via a qualifying tournament in June.

New venues

You don't have to be a rugby fan to know that Hong Kong is the prized jewel in the Sevens crown, and it will certainly take centre stage again in 2016. But the coming series also heralds the arrival of Cape Town, Sydney, Vancouver, Singapore and Paris as stops on the world tour.

Cape Town will be the first of the new venues to host a round of the series when 16 teams descend on Cape Town Stadium in under a fortnight in front of a full house. Yes, the two-day event is already sold out.

There has also been a huge buzz around the Australian leg's switch from the Gold Coast to Sydney after the event failed to resonate with the Queensland tourist hotspot. Allianz Stadium lies in the heart of Sydney, and fans have responded positively with 50,000 tickets across the two days already exhausted.

Australian Sevens' players Ed Jenkins and Cameron Clark announce Sydney as the new home of the Australian leg of the World Sevens Series, World Sevens Series, Allianz Stadium, Sydney, March 9, 2015
Australian Sevens' players Ed Jenkins and Cameron Clark announce Sydney as the new home of the Australian leg of the World Sevens Series © ARU
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Hong Kong will certainly remain the premier party spot, but you can expect plenty of activity in the stands in Cape Town and Sydney.

A second stop in North America - Vancouver - highlights the game's growing appeal in that region while Canada is among a number of nations still hunting Olympic qualification. A strong showing at home may provide the boost they need to overcome the likes of Samoa, Tonga and Portugal for an Olympic berth a couple of months later.

Sevens stars

The HSBC World Series has fostered some of the 15-man game's modern superstars, but the shortened form is now a viable career path and players are starting to build a Sevens identity - and the YouTube following that comes with international athletic recognition.

American Carlin Isles has been around for a few years -between NFL and XVs stints - but the arrival of another United States speedster, Perry Baker, last year coincided with the Eagles' ascent up the standings.

Defending champions Fiji have a host of stars that highlights the Pacific Islanders' amazing depth, with two of the best being Osea Kolinisau and Semi Kunatani. And South Africa - known as the Blitzbokke - boast the likes of Seabelo Senatla and last year's Player of the Year, Werber Kok.

New Zealand's most recognisable Sevens face is veteran and now former skipper DJ Forbes, while young gun Rieko Ioane lit up the Wellington leg last season.

England skipper Tom Mitchell was a member of last year's World Rugby Sevens Dream Team while Dan Norton offers pace out wide. Australia's standout player is the multi-skilled Cameron Clark while this season's series will also herald the return of Willy Ambaka, aka the "Kenyan Lomu".

Ambaka last featured in the 2012-2013 series, and was nominated for the World Rugby Sevens Player of the Year in 2013.

And the women? Keep an eye out for New Zealand star and reigning Women's Sevens Player of the Year Portia Woodman - her YouTube highlights are as good as they come.

© AFP/Getty Images

Big-ticket items

While the HSBC Sevens Series has created stars of its own, the lure of an Olympic medal means some seriously big names will pop up throughout the 10-stop tour.

At the top of the list is a man who needs no introduction: Sonny Bill Williams.

The three-sport superstar known as SBW has already begun his training transformation, reportedly working with the NRL's Sydney Roosters, before he links up with the wider New Zealand squad down the track. Williams' first tournament - likely to be the Wellington leg - will generate massive interest far beyond rugby's reach.

Joining Williams as New Zealand's Sevens options are fellow All Blacks Liam Messam and Augustine Pulu, and a number of other Test stars could yet make the switch.

South Africa have followed New Zealand's lead in naming Springboks Bryan Habana, Damian de Allende, Juan de Jongh and Cornal Hendriks among an extended squad for the 2015-2016 season, while Australia will be boosted by the arrival of Wallabies flyer Henry Speight who has been named in the squad for the series opener in Dubai.

Speight could be joined by the enigmatic Quade Cooper towards the middle of next year, but that will require the equally unpredictable Toulon owner Mourad Boudjellal to release the Queenslander for at least a couple of tournaments.

Whether that eventuates could be the subject of a movie mystery, but there is absolutely no doubt about one thing: this will be the biggest and best season yet of the HSBC World Sevens Series.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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