Team captains pose on the Malagueta beach at the World Rugby Sevens Series' presentation. / MIGUE FERNÁNDEZ

The World Rugby Sevens Series kicks off in Malaga

Changes have been made to participating teams, with Samoa joining New Zealand as absentees while there are doubts about whether Fiji plays

P. L. ALONSO / S. CONAGHAN MALAGA.

The World Rugby Sevens Series is kicking off this Friday (21 January) in Malaga, where the tournament is the first of two to be celebrated in Andalucía this month, with Seville hosting next week.

Spain has been a core team for a number of years and is now ready to host the tournaments for the first time.

  • Men

  • Group A: England, Fiji *, South Africa and Scotland.

  • Group B: Australia, Germany, Ireland and Japan.

  • Group C: United States, Spain, Argentina and Jamaica.

  • Group D: Kenya, Canada, France and Wales.

  • Women

  • Group A: Spain, Australia, Ireland and Belgium.

  • Group B: United States, Canada, Fiji and Poland.

  • Group C: Russia, Brazil, France and England.

  • * This team will play in the finals if it arrives in time.

The arrival of this type of rugby to the city will attract fans and non-fans alike, as an event of this scale is sure to raise questions and possibly kick start a passion for the sport in a traditionally football and basketball-dominated country.

Rugby 7s can be considered a mix of professional sports and a festival. Though similar to its big brother, rugby union, 7s is unique in the way it plays out.

"If you've never seen a game of rugby in your life and don't know the rules of it, 7s is probably the most simple and exciting format to watch," said New Zealander Paul Nicholson, CEO of KiwiHouse, the tournament promoter, in an interview given to SUR in English last week.

Each game lasts just 14 minutes and consists of two, seven-minute halves, with two teams of seven players playing on a full-sized rugby pitch.

"It's running, sprinting rugby and very exciting to watch. The moment you see a few games, you'll be addicted to what is 7s," said Nicholson.

Attendants will see a very condensed and intense format play out. Held across Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 28 participating teams from the top nations in the world will compete against each other in a bid to pick up as many series points as possible.

However, there have been some changes to the participating nations just days before games were set to begin.

The World Rugby Sevens Series trophies in Malaga. / MIGUE FERNÁNDEZ

Due to the ever-present Covid-19 pandemic, it was already known that both New Zealand's men and women teams had pulled out of participating and didn't even travel to Spain, instead being replaced by Belgium and Germany.

But now there are more affected nations from Oceania, where rugby reigns supreme. Samoa's men team, which was due to play Spain, also could not make the trip and has since been replaced by Jamaica in group C.

Fiji's two teams could have travelled to the Costa del Sol's capital but chose not to. They won't be replaced and their group stage opponents will each receive three points, with games to finish 0-0. It still remains to be seen whether Fiji's men team can make it to the knockout games, which would be played on Saturday.

Therefore, the tournament will begin today - Friday morning at 9am, with Brazil women's taking on Russia at Estadio Ciudad de Málaga, before Tokyo 2020 silver medallists France clash with England.

Spain lucky to be hosts

"This whole tournament has come about because of Covid," said KiwiHouse CEO Nicholson. "Both these series were set to be played in Hamilton (New Zealand) and Sydney (Australia) on the same weekend. But due to the pandemic and each country's quarantine restrictions, the opportunity for Spain to host came about. There aren't many countries in the world that can put up their hands and say that they could do it," he said last week.

After the Series' season openers in Dubai in December, it's now up to Malaga to put on a good show before handing over the reins to Seville next week.