New York, NY- Welcome to Part 2 of our HSBC 7s Preview, or as we like to call it – the Frequent Flyer Miles Tour. (Here’s Part 1)… We’ll continue discussing coaching changes and about what nation(s) may break into the big four of NZ, SA, England and Fiji, to claim an Olympic spot. We’ll also talk about relegation from the Core 15.
Japan – Japan has finally broken through. They have a very lucrative pro league but have struggled on the international stage. Their 15s program has finally hit its stride in the last couple of seasons and now the 7s program has done the same. Japan became a core team after winning the promotional playoffs at the Hong Kong 7s earlier this year. Their promotion comes at the expense of Spain’s demotion. This will likely be the highlight of the 7s season for Japan. They have the funding to get the best coaches and recruit quality uncapped players. Plus, their general style of play in 15s would make 7s an easy fit. However, it is one thing to earn a seat at the table and another thing to remain there. With that said, the question is, Can they shock the pundits and avoid relegation?
New Zealand – New season, same defending champions. The All Black 7s side is an unstoppable well oiled machine. Sir Gordon Tietjens is still captain of the ship known as “The Unstoppable Blackness”. Tietjens’ determination to win plus the pressure to defend the black jersey keeps the team going even in the middle of a transition. Stalwarts like RWU friend and captain DJ Forbes, Tim Mikkelson, Gilles Kaka and Tomasi Coma Jr are setting up the team for younger players. Expect to see young players like Rocky Khan, Belgium Tuatagaloa, and Jordan Bunce (son of the great Frank, who Tietjens coached in ’93) play and vet Lote Raikabula will be helpful the course of the series…Only they can stop themselves. Will this be the year?
Portugal – Our heart bleeds for Portugal. RWU friend, Pedro Leal is a key part of that. They still have players of the caliber of Aderito Esteves and Pedro Bettencourt. However, as mentioned yesterday with Argentina, there’s a clash between 15s and 7s regarding player exposure and signing pro contracts. In Portugal, its a structure problem. The national 15s program takes precedence and leaves the 7s side often understrength when there’s a European Nations Cup match the same weekend…. How will Portugal fare in the face of increasing adversity?
Samoa – Samoa remains a bit of a modern day enigma. The have won the 7s world series before and have upstaged the big 4 in occasional tournaments. However, in recent years they lack the consistency to keep pace as each 7s season wears on. Head coach, Viliamu Punivalu will lean on veteran Lio Lolo and young leader Samoa Toloa to try and help him instill the heart and focus needed to perform consistently. Will Samoa be able to dig deep enough on a regular basis to break into the top 4?
Scotland – These are interesting times for Scottish 7s. They are playing for a top 4 place and/or a higher finish than England. More likely than not, they won’t get there but they’ll have to battle hard regardless. In addition to this, they have a new coach in Calum McRae. The likes of Colin Gregor, Russell Weir, and Andy Turnbull will have to carry the load…Will the veterans be able to carry the squad while. the coach catches up?
South Africa – Neil Powell picked up where his mentor, Paul Treu, left off and got SA into 2nd place last season. This time around they pushed the All Blacks hard. If not for an off game at unfortunate times, they would have hoisted the trophy. SA’s depth results in a supporting cast that is better than most nation’s star players. Their stars, Branco Du Preez, Frankie Horne and former World Player of the Year Cecil Afrika will be fit and ready to fire coming out of the gate. Last season, we predicted a top 3 finish…But does the #1 spot beckon this season?
United States – New season means new coach for the USA. This year they finally got their guy in Mike Friday. Actually,Friday is acting as a coach/consultant role. His top assistant Chris Brown, who worked with him when he was in Kenya, has been stateside running camps and whipping the charges into shape. Friday has raised eyebrows by naming second year player Madison Hughes as captain. He has also gone for more speed by adding Perry Baker and Peter Tiberio to the squad. They’ll join the always pacy Carlin Isles. Combine them with the playmaking ability of Hughes and Folau Niua, and all arounders/veteran leaders like Zach Test and Nick Edwards and there’s a lot to like. However, with Friday spending most of his time in England and the USA 7s as his second job… Will Friday be able to impose his style and persona on this squad enough to get a top 10 or 5 finish?
Wales – The Welsh are still rebuilding. They go into the season with Gareth Williams, a different coach than they started with last season. Williams appears to be excited about the challenge and rightly so. However, the challenge is massive. Similar to Scotland, they have to find a way to finish in the top 4 to qualify for Rio (not likely) and generate some optimism about the program. There is hope that players like Lee Williams, Luke Morgan and Adam Davies will mature into the team leaders needed to carry this team to the next level…. Will they mature earlier than expected?
Non-Core Teams – 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. This year, Spain will join this group as they just lost their core status. They will play for a chance to test themselves against the core teams. The non-core teams 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 will knock off a core side?
After looking at the 15 teams here is how they will finish and who will not be back in 2015:
1. South Africa
2. New Zealand
South Africa wins the series and Portugal is relegated. All other 2014 cores teams repeat for 2015. American Samoa will be promoted and replace Portugal.
That’s it for now. 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, Jaime Loyd, Karen Ritter , Jamie Wall, Jake Frechette and Declan Yeats, respectively.
And as always, stay low and keep pumping those legs.