GOLD COAST, AUSTRALIA – Welcome back to the Frequent Flyer Miles Tour, more commonly known as the HSBC IRB Sevens World Series... And what better way, with the Gold Coast 7s just a drop-kick away, to get you ready than with Part 1 of our to our HSBC 7s Team Preview? None. So, let’s get to it. The 2 parts are sorted alphabetically.
Going into this season, two themes demand attention:
1) Coaching Changes: Nearly 2/3rds (9) of the teams start the season under new management.
2) Chasing The Pack: Which nations can emerge from chasing top teams (New Zealand, South Africa, England, Fiji), to actually supplant one? And which teams, if any, will be relegated from the core 15?
Argentina – 7s Legend Santiago Gomez-Cora, takes over an Argentina team trying to develop some consistency. They have shown an ability to compete and occasionally win the odd tournament – like USA 7s – but they have not been able to win regularly. Argentina has proud history of producing players with flair in the 15-man code like Hugo Porta, Felipe Contempomi and Augustin Pichot. And they have players of flair on this 7s roster in Matias Moroni and Rodrigo Etchart… But will they and the new coach be able to come together?
Australia – Head Coach Michael O’Connor (no relation to James) has a right to be excited about his team. In previous seasons, his team would be rebuilt every season, as 7s wasn’t an ARU priority and his players would be Super Rugby fringe players looking to impress for a Super Rugby contract. But now with Olympic glory at stake in 7s, players like Captain Ed Jenkins and the dynamic Shannon Walker and Jesse Parahi stay with the 7-man code and allow for veterans mixing with fresh young talent… Will they gel to be a force, though?
Canada – A rising program in the 2nd tier group of 7s nations, Canada’s program is developing consistency. The close interaction between 7s coach Geriant John and 15s coach Kieran Crowley has created a pipeline of players going from 7s to 15s and fringe 15s players getting the extra seasoning before becoming 15s stars – like Tyler Ardron, Taylor Paris and even veteran Phil Mack. This year’s team will lean on veteran play-maker Nathan Hirayama and John Moonlight and young guns Conor Braid and Harry Jones. John will add in the new talent at the appropriate tournaments… Will he get the formula right?
England – Of all the coaching changes, this was the most intriguing. Under Ben Ryan, the England program rose back to prominence and became a very difficult team to beat. Will new coach Simon Amor (a 7s great in his own right) be able to keep things going and press on for a 7 WS crown? He has recalled workhorse Chris Cracknell back after his 1 year injury layoff and has the electric Dan Norton back with RWU friend/correspondent and play-maker Matt Drew Turner, so chances are good. He also has some young players in the system ready to step up after being injury cover last season – like Alex Gray… Same question as Argentina, though: Will players and coach be able to come together in time?
France – The French are another Tier 1 15s nation starting to take 7s more seriously. The players may never make Top 14-like money but the FFR have decided to send less of a “has beens” and “never will be” group and added more young “soon to be” players like Renaud Delmas. The veterans of this year’s squad are last year’s captains Vincent Deniau and Manoël Dall’Ignthe and playmakers Terry Bouhraoua and Paul Albaladejo. Will these new players and the change and mindset equal more consistency?
Fiji – If England’s coaching change was the most intriguing, Fiji’s was the biggest, as it is a certain game-changer. Fiji blessed the rugby world with the greatest 7s player ever; Waisale Serevi. However, there have other greats like Tomasi Cama, Sr. and now there are young play-makers like Joji Raqamate and flyer Samisoni Viriviri. Kids grow up dreaming about 7s success before 15s, so there is no shortage of talent and commitment. Add to all of this a 7s savant like Ben Ryan as head coach, and you have a dangerous proposition. Fiji can only move from strength to strength; they were the last nation to break New Zealand’s stranglehold on the competition and they may do it again… Will it be this year though?
Kenya – The surprise of last season, Kenya finished 5th in the standings – their best ever. The man who led them to that finish, Mike Friday, is out as coach. In steps the equally capable Paul Treu. Treu will likely stay in Kenya more and be more of a visible presence than Friday, who was often flying back to England. Treu took the Blitzbokke of South Africa to previously unreached heights, 2nd place in the series, and is eager to do the same with Kenya. He will have the ageless Collins Injera to lead the side, along with Andrew Amonde and Oscar Ouma. If Treu can develop some of the young talent like Billy Odhiambo and Daniel Sikuta to add to this mix, then there might be fireworks… Will he though and will it all come together?
New Zealand – For all the off-season coaching changes, NZ are the one constant. Sir Gordon Tietjens will still be at the helm. One has to wonder, though… after winning all that there is to win in 7s as a coach, entering the Hall Of Fame and being knighted, what is left? There is nothing left but Tietjens’ and the All Black 7s’ will to remain the best. Tietjens will have RWU friend DJ Forbes and Tim Mikkelson to be his workhorses, with veteran play-maker Tomasi Coma Jr and young play-maker Rocky Khan. He will also have the dangerous Belgium Tuatagaloa but will be without Gilles Kaka to start, due to injury… Will they be their own worst enemy this season and be victims of their own content?
That concludes the first part of the 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.