The names you need to know: 7 players to watch in men’s SVNS 2023/24
Out with the old and in with a new format, the revamped path to SVNS series glory is just about to get underway. It’ll be tense, thrilling and everything in between as the world’s best battle it out for rugby sevens immortality.
But that’s all in the past. An all-new ball game awaits, and with the Olympics not too far behind, there will be plenty of passion, intensity and fire during the eight SVNS legs this season.
The new-look SVNS series gets underway this weekend in Dubai, followed by another enthralling event in Cape Town the following week.
But it’s all building to a finite conclusion that will leave fans from around the rugby world holding their breath in anticipation. Madrid will host the series Grand Final from May 31 to June 2.
With so much to win and even more to lose, there are genuine superstars on the SVNS circuit who will need to rise up and shine if their teams have any chance of creating history on the biggest stage.
Whether you’re new to sevens or a seasoned fan, here are some names that you need to know before, during and after SVNS 2023/24.
RODRIGO ISGRO (ARG)
Argentina shocked the rugby sevens world during an inspired rugby in the 2022/23 season, with Los Pumas winning three Cup finals in a single campaign for the first time ever.
Try-scoring phenom Rodrigo Isgro played a key role in Argentina’s surprise run to a second-placed finish on the World Sevens Series standings, and the speedster was rewarded for that on rugby’s night of nights.
On a stunning Parisian night at the Opera Garnier in October, Isgro was recognised as the World Rugby Men’s Sevens Player of the year. Along with fellow nominee Marcos Moneta, the pair had crossed for 80 tries between them for Argentina.
But that’s not all. Isgro had been included in Michael Cheika’s Rugby World Cup squad, with the wing starting against Chile in pool play. Isgro scored one try at the sport’s showpiece event, but was also yellow-carded against Argentina’s Southern American neighbours.
If Argentina has any chance of replicating their sensational form last season – or potentially going one step further with the season ending with a Grand Final event in Madrid – then Isgro holds the key.
LEROY CARTER (NZL)
Leroy Carter fell short of Player of the Year honours, but the New Zealander can certainly hold his head up high following a career-best campaign in the coveted black jersey.
At only 24 years of age, Carter was arguably New Zealand’s best player during a dominant campaign that saw the All Blacks Sevens win the World Series for a record 14th time.
Carter scored two tries as New Zealand defeated sevens rivals Argentina 22-12 in an enthralling Cup final in Los Angeles earlier this year – but Carter didn’t stop there.
The Bay of Plenty product was sensational at the esteemed Hong Kong Sevens in April, and backed that up a week later with another strong showing in Singapore. Carter received Player of the Final honours there, too.
If last season is anything to go by – as cliché as this will sound – then the sky really is the limit for Leroy Carter.
Nobody would’ve been surprised if the New Zealander had been crowned the world’s best in Paris instead of Rodrigo Isgro, with both men standing out last season.
But with the dawn of a new season approaching, there is no reason why Carter won’t take that next step in a team full of world-class players including Sam Dickson and Akuila Rokolisoa.
MICHAEL HOOPER (AUS)
Former Wallabies captain Michael Hooper has officially penned a deal with the Australian men’s sevens side, and it seems that Hooper is already making his mark.
Members of that group, including captain Nick Malouf and coach John Manenti, have already commented on the significant impact that Hooper has had on the squad, and the four-time John Eales Medallist hasn’t even joined the group officially.
Hooper will start training the house down on a more regular basis with his new teammates in early January, with the legendary openside flanker widely tipped to debut on the SVNS series in Perth.
“Hoops is a guy that in our rugby arena has done everything. In the 15s game, he’s a role model,” Aussie sevens ace Tim Clements told Wide World of Sports.
“So to have a guy of his calibre, both on the field and off the field – he’ll be really, really important for us and will only be adding to that competition that we’ve already built in the squad and making the squad better.”
While Hooper has set his sights on the Olympic Games and deserves plenty of plaudits for that, there is a touch of intrigue surrounding this move.
Some players have jumped from 15s to sevens with success – including former All Black Sonny Bill Williams – but others have struggled.
With one of the greatest players in Australian rugby history entering what appears to be one of the final chapters of his storied career, the rugby world waits to see if Hooper has what it takes.
TERRY KENNEDY (IRE)
Watch out rugby sevens fans, Irishman Terry Kennedy is back. The World Rugby’s Men’s Sevens Player of the Year in 2022 will return to SVNS in Dubai after taking a short break away from the format.
Maybe it’s just the nature of SVNS but it’s easy to forget about what happened in yesteryear or even the seasons before then. With new players coming and going, new heroes will always rise.
But Terry Kennedy is a frighteningly good talent. Playing on the World Sevens Series during his career-best season, the rugby sevens superstar crossed for an incredible 50 tries.
Don’t put it down to the luck of the Irish, either – that doesn’t happen very often, or it’s certainly not down to chance. Kennedy has a knack for creating something special out of nothing so it’ll be a gift to SVNS fans to see him back on the circuit in Dubai.
“I just really enjoyed the sevens, loved what we were doing here. For most guys, the 15s route is the one they want to go down but sevens for me was what I enjoyed the most and I was delighted to go down that route,” Kennedy told RugbyPass’ Liam Heagney.
“I just love one, the travel, and two, the type of game, that expansive running game, working really hard for each other. The fast-paced game, the travel, getting to play around the world was something that really appealed to me.”
ROSKO SPECMAN (RSA)
It’s been rumoured for quite some time that South African Rosko Specman would find his way back to sevens, but it was finally made official just a matter of days ago.
As a genuine icon of the Blitzboks and the sport as a whole, the inclusion of the side-stepping whizz in South Africa’s squad for the Dubai SVNS is a major boost to a team hungry for a revival.
The Blitzboks were uncharacteristically poor last season. Time and time again, event after event, the South Africans fell well short of the expectations set by themselves and their supporters.
While they managed to take out the first of two tournaments in Hong Kong China, the South Africans went on to finish the 11-tournament season in seventh place.
But Specman is back for the first time since Cape Town in December 2020, and all sevens fans know just how big of a deal that really is.
“There are a few guys in the team, like Justin [Geduld], Impi [Visser], Ryan [Oosthuizen] and Zain [Davids], who were all here when I was here,” Specman said, as reported by SA Rugby Mag. “It’s nice to see how they have grown as players, but also how the system has changed a bit. There are new personnel with the team and the guys have adapted.
“For me, it was a bit tough in the beginning, but now the body is ready and now that the body is ready, it’s time for Specmagic!”
ANTOINE DUPONT (FRA)
There might not be a better player on the planet than Frenchman Antoine Dupont. The halfback is able to do things with relative ease, while others watch on in a lost sense of awe.
Dupont overcame a devastating injury at this year’s Rugby World Cup to return for France’s quarterfinal blockbuster against eventual champions South Africa, but his quest for the Webb Ellis Cup was put on hold for another four years that night.
But the opportunity to deliver an international title to France on home soil is still a possibility – but it would have to be an Olympic gold medal rather than a championship.
Dupont is expected to suit up for France on this year’s SVNS series before taking the field at Stade de France during the Paris Olympics next year.
“Competing for an Olympic medal is really motivating,” Dupont told Canal+. “We’ll have to adjust things. I won’t be able to play all the matches every weekend until the end of the season. Sacrifices will have to be made to be able to spend time with the team.”
PERRY BAKER (USA)
The final player on this list almost doesn’t need an introduction.
Two-time Sevens Player of the Year Perry Baker is one of the quickest players on the SVNS series, with the man known as the ‘Speedstick’ using his electrifying pace to lead the United States to some famous wins over the years.
The former Philadelphia Eagles squad member signed a full-time deal with the US Eagles in 2014 and has never looked back – not even for a second.
Baker has finished 10th or better on the World Sevens Series for tries scored in a season six times which included a whopping 57 five-pointers during a career-best campaign in 2016/17.
With multiple World Series Dream Team selections as well, there’s no denying that Baker is a legend of United States rugby and sevens – but injuries did play a part last season.
But while there will always be doubters, Baker knows how to silence any and all rugby critics. Baker was especially impressive at the Hong Kong China Sevens earlier this year, with the American almost singlehandedly knocking Australia out with a brilliant double in pool play.
The USA finished 10th last season, with some horrible overall placings in Los Angeles, Singapore, Toulouse and London costing Mike Friday’s team. But they’re better than that, and so is Baker.
Seven honourable mentions: AKUILA ROKOLISOA (NZL), DIETRICH ROACHE (AUS), HENRY HUTCHISON (AUS)*, JOSEVA TALACOLO (FIJ), MARCUS MONETA (ARG), MAURICE LONGBOTTOM (AUS), NGAROHI MCGARVY-BLACK (NZL)