The names you need to know: 7 players to watch in women's SVNS 2023/24
There was absolutely no debate about who the best SVNS team in women’s rugby was last year. While Australia claimed Cup final glory in Dubai to open the series, it was all New Zealand from there.
The Black Ferns Sevens won every other event that season as they raced away with what ended up being a dominant climb to World Sevens Series glory in 2022/23.
Playmaker Tyla-Nathan Wong and try-scoring phenom Michaela Blyde were both nominated for World Rugby Sevens Player of the Year honours, but the rest of the team was superb as well.
But that’s all in the past. With the Olympics just around the corner, the Black Ferns Sevens’ dominance has been written into the history books – but a new chapter awaits.
Australia will be desperate to make up for some underwhelming performances last season, and a strong pre-season has them feeling confident ahead of the new campaign.
But don’t forget about the rest. Fiji, Great Britain, France and Ireland are among the teams that are more than capable of an upset or two. It’s anyone’s game at the moment.
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 sport’s 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.
CHARLOTTE CASLICK (AUS)
No SVNS list would be complete without Australia captain Charlotte Caslick. As a pioneer for not just rugby but women’s sport in Australia, Caslick has been a beloved fan favourite for well over a decade.
When you consider all of the legends to have graced the World Sevens Series over the years – both men and women – Caslick stands out as one of the best.
Caslick is a two-time World Rugby Sevens Player of the Year, and is also the only woman to have been nominated for the prestigious honour on four occasions. If there was ever to be a ‘GOAT’ debate in SVNS, then Charlotte Caslick would certainly have to be in the mix.
After winning an Olympic gold medal in Rio 2016, the 28-year-old has gone on to win two Commonwealth Games medals and the Rugby Sevens World Cup in 2022.
Caslick also became the first Australian player to score 150 World Series tries after crossing for a five-pointer at the spiritual home of sevens last year – that of course in Hong Kong China. The Aussie really has done it all but is as hungry as ever to create more history.
Known around the SVNS world as an electrifying playmaker who leads by example every time she steps onto the field, Caslick will play a pivotal role in Australia’s season.
While the likes of Madison Ashby (see below) and Teagan Levi are more than capable of stepping up when it counts in attack, Caslick holds the key as Australia look to return to the top of the SVNS world in 2023/24.
JORJA MILLER (NZL)
At just 19 years of age, New Zealander Jorja Miller has skyrocketed to superstar status within the world of rugby sevens after taking the international stage by storm in 2022/23.
Miller debuted in the legendary black jersey during the Rugby Sevens World Cup in Cape Town last year, and the teenager went on to shine in seven World Series legs the following season.
The Black Ferns Sevens barely missed a beat during a practically perfect campaign, and a lot of that comes down to the gifted greatness seen across the park. Stacey Waaka, Portia Woodman-Wickliffe and Michaela Blyde were among the standouts.
But Miller is a special talent – it’s not very often that a generational talent like this comes around.
Miller was named in four tournament dream teams during a breakout debut season, received Player of the Final honours in Sydney just under a year ago, and was awarded the World Rugby Rookie of the Year honour.
But there’s more. After a sublime season with the World Series-winning Black Ferns Sevens, Miller recently signed the longest contract by a women’s player in New Zealand ever.
Miller has committed to New Zealand Rugby and the Black Ferns Sevens through to 2027 which is a simply incredible achievement for such a young talent – but it just goes to show that Miller really is something else.
“We’ve got such a big legacy in this team so being part of continuing that by locking in a long-term contract, it shows the pathway that there is in the women’s game,” Miller said in a statement.
“I’ve got a lot more to give to this team and this game. I’m excited to keep growing on and off the field and I have a drive to really change the game, I want to bring a different style and be a different athlete.”
MADDISON LEVI (AUS)
World Rugby Sevens Player of the Year nominee Maddison Levi was scoring tries for fun during a breakout campaign in 2022/23, and there’s no reason why the Aussie can’t match that or even break more records during the upcoming SVNS season.
Playing alongside genuine superstars including Charlotte Caslick and Madison Ashby, Levi etched her name into the history books during an incredible individual season in Aussie green and gold.
Levi, 21, broke the record for the most tries in a single World Series season by a female player by crossing for 57 five-pointers over the seven events – the next best was 43 (Michaela Blyde).
If the Black Ferns Sevens hadn’t been so dominant last season, then there’s no reason why Levi couldn’t have won the Player of the Year honour – but a new dawn awaits. This could be her year.
Women’s coach Tim Walsh recently revealed that Maddison and sister Teagan Levi had knocked back “daily and weekly” interest from rival codes to stick with rugby union.
Both sisters have re-signed with Rugby Australia until at least the 2025/26 season. It’s a major coup for Australian rugby and the SVNS series as a whole.
“The Aussie Rugby Sevens program is probably the highest level elite, full-time women’s sports program in the country,” Maddison Levi said in a statement.”
“The level of the coaching and training, the S&C, the medical side, the player development, and the standards and expectations within the group are as good as it gets.
“Plus, we have experienced so much over the last two seasons – travelling the world with this group, winning major tournaments – that it just made it such an easy decision to continue on with the squad beyond the Olympics next year.
“There is so much to look forward to for this program – and I will get to do it with my sister, as well as with this extended family that is our team.”
Teagan Levi hasn’t made this list, but the younger sister is set for a breakout season of her own. Levi was a bench player earlier last season, but ended up starting as one of the first-choice playmakers and kickers by the time the esteemed Hong Kong Sevens rolled around.
Both sisters have superstar potential.
MADISON ASHBY (AUS)
In a team full of superstars – including two other players on this very list – playmaker Madison Ashby has the potential to become one of the world’s best players by the time the 2023/24 season is done and dusted.
With fast feet, slick passing and a brilliant understanding of the sport, Ashby is more than capable of creating something truly special out of practically nothing – the Aussie only needs half a chance.
But sporting greatness has always been in her future. As reported by The Daily Telegraph years ago, Ashby made national headlines in Australia at a young age.
With the Rio Olympics quickly approaching, Ashby’s parents and coach tried to convince Rugby Australia to pick the rising star. While it didn’t happen, it was clear that Ashby was destined for something incredible.
Ashby had to wait a little bit longer but was eventually able to realise her Olympic dream with the Australian sevens side at the Tokyo Games two years ago.
“I was 13 playing in an open women’s comp and my mum and dad got in trouble for letting me play because you’re not allowed,” told RugbyPass earlier this year.
“They knew I wasn’t ready, I was so young. Being here now, I’m 22, and we’re about to (go to) the Olympics.
“The amount of physical toll it takes on your body to be able to do it, looking back then, when I was 13 that would’ve been an amazing dream and it was a dream.
“To already have played at an Olympics and now training for another one, to my younger self I would have been like, ‘Be patient, be patient.’”
The word “patient” is the key here. If you watch Ashby play, it just looks like she always has time – very rarely is the young Aussie caught out by making unforced mistakes.
Ashby will play a big role in Australia’s SVNS title charge this season as one of the team’s leaders alongside skipper Charlotte Caslick. This team would be very different without her.
MICHAELA BLYDE (NZL)
Michael Blyde is a fan favourite for a reason. Playing in a team that includes the likes of Stacey Waaka and Jorja Miller, Blyde is a star that shines bright on the Sevens Series.
Blyde is a try-scoring machine for the New Zealand women’s sevens side, with the wing standing on the cusp of history ahead of the new campaign. The Kiwi isn’t too far off the legendary mark of 200 tries on the circuit.
With electrifying pace, hard-hitting defence and a focused look on her face, there’s a reason that Blyde is widely considered one of the greatest players in the history of sevens.
Blyde became the first woman to claim the World Rugby Sevens Player of the Year honour back-to-back in 2017 and 2018, and the New Zealander was also nominated for the 2023 award.
If New Zealand go the distance in 2023/24 and defend their world champion moniker on the series, then Blyde would be destined to play a leading role.
REAPI ULUNISAU (FIJ)
Two years ago at the Tokyo Olympics, Fiji shocked the rugby sevens world by eliminating reigning gold medallists Australia out of contention with a masterful performance in the quarter-finals.
Reapi Ulunisau debuted for the Fijian sevens on the world’s biggest sporting stage, and the exciting talent has continued to play with grace, skill and poise during some solid years since.
Playing on the World Series, Ulunisau took her game to an all-new level last season – and there’s no reason why that trend can’t continue in 2023/24.
Ulunisau was one of four nominees for World Rugby’s Sevens Player of the Year along with Maddison Levi, Michaela Blyde and Tyla Nathan-Wong.
The Fijian star crossed for the sixth-most tries out of any player last season with 28, and also finished fifth for the most points scored by 170. The lists were otherwise dominated by New Zealanders and Australians.
Fiji has been drawn in a frighteningly tough pool ahead of the opening SVNS Series event in Dubai this weekend, with the proud rugby sevens nation set to come up against New Zealand, South Africa and Great Britain.
Ulunisau will need to bring her A-game, but there’s no reason to question whether or not she will. The Fijiana star will shine again this season – her teammates simply need her to.
THALIA COSTA (BRA)
“It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog.” This is an incredibly famous Mark Twain quote that most people have surely heard time and time again.
Especially in a sport like rugby, everyone loves to see smaller players defy the odds to take down their larger and usually more fancied opponents with skill, physicality and precision.
Thalia Costa is a testament to that saying. Standing at about 1.53 metres tall, Costa is by no means the biggest player on the SVNS pitch, but the Brazilian is not one to shy away from a challenge either.
After debuting for the sevens team at the Tokyo Olympics a couple of years ago, Costa has trekked new ground for a Brazilian player in the world of rugby union – and it’s great to see.
Costa boasts blistering pace that would have to be the envy of other players on the SVNS Series. The Brazilian rushes by defenders like a blur on the way to the try line – sometimes, there’s just nothing they can do.
The speedster scored the most tries out of any player at the South American Championships to help Brazil qualify for the Rugby Sevens World Cup in 2022. That’s just one example of Costa’s skill and execution.
As an individual, Costa is one of the most exciting players to watch on the SVNS circuit. So next time you watch the SVNS – whether that’s in person or on TV – just remember, it’s about “the size of the fight in the dog.”
Seven honourable mentions: CAMILLE GRASSINEAU (FRA), CAROLINE DROUIN (FRA), CHARITY WILLIAMS (CAN), ILONER MAHER (USA), JASMINE JOYCE (GBR), PORTIA WOODMAN-WICKLIFFE (NZL), STACEY WAAKA (NZL)