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Hong Kong Sevens: France should be Olympic favourites, Hooper has long way to go

By Finn Morton
Antoine Dupont after winning LA SVNS with France, Argentina's Marcos Moneta and Michael Hooper of Australia. (Photos by Patrick T. Fallon/AFP/Will Russell/Getty Images/Peter PARKS / AFP via Getty Images)

Just as they did last season, New Zealand have claimed a famous double at the Hong Kong Sevens with both the women’s and men’s teams winning their respective deciders on Sunday night.

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With this potentially being the final SVNS Series leg at Hong Kong Stadium, those who can call themselves ‘champions’ at the event have etched their names into the history books.

SVNS veteran Michaela Blyde crossed for a hat-trick as the Black Ferns Sevens ran away with a big win over the USA, and the All Blacks Sevens held on for a clinical victory over a French outfit without Antoine Dupont.

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Here are seven takeaways from the iconic Hong Kong Sevens.

Argentina will struggle to win SVNS Series without Marcos Moneta

When fit and available, there isn’t a better SVNS player in the world than Argentina’s Marcos Moneta. Los Pumas Sevens soared to the top of the season’s standings with Cup final wins in Cape Town, Perth and Vancouver, and Moneta played a key role in each of them.

But with just one tournament left in Singapore before the first-ever Grand Final event at Madrid’s Civitas Metropolitan Stadium, and with the Olympics in Paris just around the corner, Argentina have been dealt an all-mighty blow.

Marcos Moneta, 24, was carried off the field at Hong Kong Stadium on Friday after suffering a devasting injury. The Argentinian was in tears, and his teammates were visibly devastated as they made their way off the field during pool play.

Teammate Tobias Wade told RugbyPass that the SVNS Series leaders “are praying” for Moneta with the World Rugby Sevens Player of the Year nominee leaving Hong Kong China early to return to Argentina for some scans.

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But it doesn’t look good.

Moneta appears to be in serious doubt for the SVNS Series’ Grand Final event in Madrid. Argentina may be at the top of the men’s standings, but it’s winner-takes-all for the top eight sides at the season’s final stop from May 31 to June 2.

Argentina showed this weekend just how important Moneta is. They were a completely different side without him as Los Pumas Sevens failed to make the Cup quarter-finals for the first time this season.

Without Moneta, Argentina cannot win the SVNS Series Grand Final. Without Moneta, Argentina cannot win the Olympic Games in Paris. That’s how big of a deal this injury is.

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Experience was the difference for Black Ferns Sevens

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New Zealand didn’t look rattled after their surprise defeat to France on day two at the Cathay/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens. The Kiwis were disappointed, clearly, but the result didn’t have to define them.

Rugby World Cup record try scorer Portia Woodman-Wickliffe said it best, explaining to RugbyPass why losing can be a positive. “To lose, it gives you fire, it allows you to go home and go back and learn and grow from there.”

The Black Ferns Sevens were still through to the quarters against Canada, which they won 26-5, before facing their toughest test yet against SVNS Series heavyweights Australia in a blockbuster semi-final.

They may have dropped a pool stage match, but the experience of the group to rally when it counted was special. Veteran players led by example which allowed for younger players to thrive on one of the sport’s biggest stages.

Michaela Blyde, captain Risi Pouri-Lane and Woodman-Wickliffe all scored for New Zealand as they ran up a 21-14 lead over their neighbours from across the ditch. 20-year-old talent Jorja Miller put the icing on the cake with a try after the full-time siren.

But again, the experience was the key. Big-name players stood up when the Black Ferns Sevens needed them to.

Australia have some incredible talent within their ranks, including debutants Ruby Nicholas and Bridget Clark who were both impressive over the tournament, but they’re a very young side. Charlotte Caslick and Sharni Smale are their only Olympic gold medallists.

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Former Wallaby Michael Hooper has a long way to go in SVNS

Michael Hooper debuted on the SVNS Series in Hong Kong China, and while the former Wallabies captain can take some positives out of the experience, there’s still a long way to go for ‘Hoops’ on the road to Paris 2024.

After coming on as a second-half replacement against Fiji, Hooper’s first involvement was a missed tackle followed by an impressive recovery in defence. Hooper also got his hands on the ball once and secured a trademark penalty at the breakdown.

But the four-time John Eales Medallist still has plenty to learn about the game. Hooper isn’t the quickest player on the circuit, nor is he the fittest, so the 125-Test veteran needs to become one of the smartest if he wants to succeed.

Coach John Manenti didn’t call on Hooper at all during Australia’s semi-final clash with arch-rivals New Zealand on Sunday. There’s still a long way to go until Madrid and the Games, but it’s obvious that Hooper is not close to the Olympics grade yet.

“Just how quick it is, how quick the game is,” Hooper told reporters after being asked what he’s learned. “It’s over in a flash.

“Probably it being like real rugby… I felt good out there, I felt like I could compete.

“There’s some areas of the game that I think I can get a lot better at for sure; how I link with other players and when I can impact the game. It was a good weekend.”

Finn Morton spoke with former Wallaby Michael Hooper after his SVNS Series debut. Picture: World Rugby.

France should be favourites to win Olympic gold with Antoine Dupont

With more than 80,000 fans at Stade de France cheering on Les Bleus, France should be considered strong favourites to take out Olympic gold at their home Games in Paris later this year.

Earlier in the SVNS Series season, that prediction would seem a tad outrageous, France were a good side without being great, but the inclusion of former World Rugby 15s Player of the Year Antoine Dupont in Vancouver and Los Angeles was a game-changer.

With Dupont, France won their first Cup final in 19 years at LA’s Dignity Health Sports Park. It was a history-making moment that the players clearly loved, with some of the team still wearing their medals at LA Airport the following night.

Dupont was statistically one of the best players across the two SVNS Series events in North America, so not having him for last weekend’s event was always going to be tough. But to their credit, Les Bleus have continued to thrive.

France thrashed Canada and edged Australia in a thriller on the opening day of play, and also got the better of Spain and Ireland on their road to the Cup final at the world-famous Hong Kong Stadium.

Stephen Parez-Edo Martin was solid as the team’s chief playmaker, as were the likes of Rayan Rebbadj and Antoine Zeghdar (who was later injured in the final) across the entire three-day event.

They may have lost the final to New Zealand, but after ending a 19-year drought in LA and nearly backing that up in Hong Kong China, it’s just a fact that this team will be a contender both on the Series and at the Games.

With Dupont back in the mix, and with more than 80,000 fans in Paris cheering them on, there’s absolutely no doubt that France should be considered worthy favourites to win Olympic gold – especially when you consider the injury to Argentina’s Marcos Moneta.

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Maddison Levi is the face of women’s rugby

Every time Australia’s Maddison Levi touched the ball at Hong Kong Stadium, the crowd roared. As she’s proven all season, the try-scoring machine has the ability to make magic happen on the rugby field.

Still, in her early 20s, Maddison Levi has already become the face of the Australian women’s side alongside captain Charlotte Caslick. Then there’s younger sister Teagan Levi who has also come a long way during a breakout 2023/24 season.

Much like Moneta in the men’s game, there isn’t a better player in women’s rugby union – yes, 15s included – than Levi. There’s been some issues with her tackle technique this season but when she’s on the field, the Australian in a force to be reckoned with.

“It’s honestly amazing having Maddy Levi in our team. I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Australia’s Faith Nathan told RugbyPass after the third-place playoff.

“Her and Charlotte Caslick, both of them just lead the girls from the front and it’s really inspiring.”

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The All Blacks Sevens are back but consistency is their kryptonite

All Blacks Sevens ace Cody Vai has said that “this is not it” for the New Zealanders on the SVNS Series after they broke their Cup final drought on a famous night at Hong Kong Stadium.

Vai scored the first try in the final against France and is now a two-time champion at the prestigious event after helping the All Blacks Sevens win the trophy last season.

Without the likes of Leroy Carter, Akuila Rokolisoa, Sam Dickson and Tim Mikkelson, the New Zealanders have stood up with a statement title. It’s a step in the right direction but consistency from tournament to tournament has been their kryptonite to date.

After claiming bronze in Dubai, the Kiwis were lucky to make it to the quarters in Cape Town and then failed to make it out of their pool at SVNS Perth in January.

They made the Vancouver final and then backed that up by failing to make the top eight in a 12-team competition a week later in Los Angeles. It’s been a turbulent season, but now they’re one of just three men’s teams to win a title in 2023/24.

If the All Blacks Sevens can springboard off this and build towards a brighter tomorrow then that’s very interesting ahead of the Olympics. But only time will tell as to whether or not they’re good enough.

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There’s nothing quite like the Hong Kong Sevens

For those fortunate enough to have experienced the Hong Kong Sevens then you’ll agree that there’s nothing quite like the world-famous rugby event. Not only is the quality of the sport quite breathtaking at times, but the crowd is incredible.

Dressed in everything and anything, the fancy dress plays a huge role in what makes this stop on the SVNS Series so iconic. But fans aren’t afraid to let out a cheer or a boo either as the best sevens players in the world grace the field.

If this is the last SVNS event at the Hong Kong Stadium, then what a stunning sendoff for the world-famous venue.

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Jon 23 hours ago
Why Sam Cane's path to retirement is perfect for him and the All Blacks

> It would be best described as an elegant solution to what was potentially going to be a significant problem for new All Blacks coach Scott Robertson. It is a problem the mad population of New Zealand will have to cope with more and more as All Blacks are able to continue their careers in NZ post RWCs. It will not be a problem for coaches, who are always going to start a campaign with the captain for the next WC in mind. > Cane, despite his warrior spirit, his undoubted commitment to every team he played for and unforgettable heroics against Ireland in last year’s World Cup quarter-final, was never unanimously admired or respected within New Zealand while he was in the role. Neither was McCaw, he was considered far too passive a captain and then out of form until his last world cup where everyone opinions changed, just like they would have if Cane had won the WC. > It was never easy to see where Cane, or even if, he would fit into Robertson’s squad given the new coach will want to be building a new-look team with 2027 in mind. > Cane will win his selections on merit and come the end of the year, he’ll sign off, he hopes, with 100 caps and maybe even, at last, universal public appreciation for what was a special career. No, he won’t. Those returning from Japan have already earned the right to retain their jersey, it’s in their contract. Cane would have been playing against England if he was ready, and found it very hard to keep his place. Perform, and they keep it however. Very easy to see where Cane could have fit, very hard to see how he could have accomplished it choosing this year as his sabbatical instead of 2025, and that’s how it played out (though I assume we now know what when NZR said they were allowing him to move his sabbatical forward and return to NZ next year, they had actually agreed to simply select him for the All Blacks from overseas, without any chance he was going to play in NZ again). With a mammoth season of 15 All Black games they might as well get some value out of his years contract, though even with him being of equal character to Richie, I don’t think they should guarantee him his 100 caps. That’s not what the All Blacks should be about. He absolutely has to play winning football.

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