New York, NY- Welcome back to Part 2 of the Frequent Flyer Miles Tour, our preview of the 2013/2014 HSBC sponsored IRB Sevens World Series. We will continue discussing coaching changes and talk about which nation(s) can emerge to join the big dogs like NZ, SA, England, Fiji. We’ll also talk about relegation from the Core 15.
Portugal – New coach Pedro Netto Fernandes will be in a tough place. Though Portugal weren’t horrible last season, they don’t seem to have truly progressed from earning the core status last season under the new structure. The goal for Portugal has to be top 10 but they take a hit during the European Nations Cup in the spring because irreplaceable veterans like RWU friend Pedro Leal and Aderito Esteves often play for the 15s. This puts more pressure on teenagers José Vareta, Pedro Bettencourt and Nuno Guedes… Will the new coach and the starlets be able to lift the side into the top 10?
Samoa – For most nations, a 4th place in the overall standings isn’t a bad finish. However, Samoa being one of the few nations to win the SWS, Fa’amoni Lalomilo was shown the door. In steps the country’s former Under-20 coach, Viliamu Punivalu. Punivalu is expected to look beyond reliable veterans like Alatasi Tupou and develop young talent like Samoa Toloa and Logofaalii Toa, U20 players Punivalu should be familiar with. This transition will make achieving 4th place or higher a much more difficult proposition… Will the Samoa RU exercise patience as things come together?
Scotland – For the nation that invented 7s rugby, Scotland has had some lean years in the 7s arena. They have been able to really find the play-makers and finishers to complement workhorses like Struan Dewar and Scott Riddell. Hopefully guy like Russell Weir can provide the needed flair to allow Andy Turnbull to finish… Will this be enough to help them make a quantum leap forward in the standings?
South Africa – Neil Powell was just named as Paul Treu‘s replacement as head coach this past weekend. It is not a late or hurried appointment as Powell had served as Treu’s assistant for the past few seasons. Powell will hopefully not have to deal with as injury-riddled a roster as Treu. A healthy Branco Du Preez, Kyle Brown and former World Player of the Year Cecil Afrika would have allowed the Blitzbokke to legitimately push New Zealand for the title. If they can get young flyer Cheslin Kolbe back from Currie Cup side Western Province or unearth a 2013 youngster of similar ability, then the top 3 beckons… Will they stay healthy and will Powell be able to carry that torch?
Spain – New Coach Santiago Santos (we are up to 8, in case you were counting) is in the same predicament as his Iberian counter part, Netto Fernandes. The ENC and a chance at doing well enough to get a club 15s contract pulls away his established stars like Sergio Fernandez. However young players like Gerardo de la Llana and Jacobo Martin to try and make a name for themselves on 7s circuit and may get their European club contract that way. If they can find themselves a couple of players like Matias Tudela, they could push their way into the Top 10 or even Top 8… Will they be able to find the game-changing players in Spain or thru heritage links and will they be enough?
United States – The last coach on our list that will be in his debut season is RWU friend Matt “Polar Bear” Hawkins. Hawkins will be a player/coach, the first since Waisele Serevi for Fiji in 2006/7. His challenge will be greater than Serevi’s. Hawkin’s US side finish strong under previous coach Alex Magleby but he was only there for a 1.5 years and it was in the final 5 tournaments things clicked. His learning courve was huge but Hawkins will be greater he has to find his role in the team as player, separate it from his decision-making, find a new captain as he was the previous captain and final deal with a talent pool that is not as deep or competitive as it needs to be. In terms of captain, Hawkins chose the star of the 2012/13 series Carlin Isles, who will now be under pressure to repeat his achievements with teams planning for him but hopefully is now a more seasoned player. Playmaker Folau Niau is back and will be critical to the attack. Zach Test made the series team and player of the tournament in London, can he repeat that effort. Nick Edwards and Brett Thompson had breakthrough seasons can they build off of that and will Miles Craigwell find his feet at this level. The variables needed for success are overwhelming…. Will enough pieces fall into place to allow for the US to avoid relegation and press on for a top 10 finish?
Wales – The former world champions are rebuilding. Richie Pugh has hung up his boots and begun coaching at
Llandovery College and several WRU programs. The other members of the 2009 squad like Lee Beach and Aled Thomas have been sent out to pasture. In steps Adam Thomas, Will Thomas, and Adam Field along with a new group of hungry players… They have the talent to shock but will they?
Non-Core Team – Tonga, Zimbabwe, Uruguay and American Samoa are just some of the nations that are non-core teams. These nations will be the 16th team at each stop. They will play for a chance to test themselves against the core teams. They will also earn a chance at promotion in a 2-part process starting with the Hong Kong 7s and ending with the final stop of the series, the London 7s. They will go against the teams that finished 13-14 for the final two core spots on the 2014-2015 tour, 15th place will automatically get relegated… Which of these nations shock the world and knock off a core side?
After looking at the 15 teams here is how they will finish and who will not be back in 2014.
1. New Zealand
4. South Africa
Spain gets relegated, all other 2013 cores teams repeat for 2014. They will be replaced by Tonga who will be promoted.
That concludes our team previews. We finished each preview with a question – what are your answer? Feel free to comment below, look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter @: RugbyWrapUp, Junoir Blaber, DJ Eberle, Nick Hall, James Harrington, Cody Kuxmann and Declan Yeats, respectively.
And until the next time… stay low and keep pumping those legs.