HSBC IRB 7s Preview, Part 1

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hsbc-sevensGOLD COAST, AUSTRALIA – It is once again time for the kick-off of  Frequent Flyer Miles Tour, more commonly known as the HSBC IRB Sevens World Series. This season  begins with the Gold Coast 7s.  As we did last year, we will preview each of the teams before the season starts along with a preview of each stop on the tour. The teams are sorted alphabetically. Part 1 of our HSBC 7s Team Preview is today and Part 2 will be tomorrow.

Going into this season, there were a few things that caught our attention. Such as the amount of off the field upheaval some nations had to deal with and the relegation of a core nation. But, just like last season, the two main themes for the season are:
1) Coaching Changes: Nearly half  (7 out of 15) of the teams start the season under new management.
2) Olympic Qualification: As expected last season, the final four teams were New Zealand, South Africa, Fiji, and England. Going into the season, we wondered if the there would be new members to the chasing pack and there weren’t. Now, with top 4 receiving an Olympic bid, will anyone be able to break up the quartet?

Argentina – Under the leadership of 7s legend and first year coach Santiago Gomez-Cora, Argentina improved one place and a greater points haul from the 2012-13 season. The problem is, like every country without a pro league, 7s takes a backseat to 15s in Argentina. This means promising players often get snapped up by 15s clubs and contracts.  However in his second year, Cora will have some returnees and players familiar with his system… will this lead to top 5 success for the Argies though?

Aus 7sAustralia – The first of the nations on this list to have a new head coach. Last year, long time head coach Michael O’Connor stepped down at the end of the season. O’Connor had long been the water carrier for the program. He fought to have it be an ARU priority and finally got contracts for his players to be 7s specialists. Into the void stepped Welshman Geriant John who was doing a fine job coaching Canada.  The Aussies finished 5th last season and with players like Captain Ed Jenkins and workhorse Jesse Parahi staying with the 7-man code, there is an opportunity for them to crack the top 4…Can the new coach and his team can gel fast enough?

Canada – If any 2nd tier nation is poised to take that step into the top 2, it could be Canada. (Fiji doesn’t count as 2nd tier as they are 1st tier in 7s.) Canada’s problem is that the  7s program and its player development has become a double  edged sword. With the close working relationship of former 7s coach Geriant John and 15s coach Kieran Crowley, the program became a pipeline for 15s player development. Such as, current 15s captain Tyler Ardron.   Now though, 7s veterans like Phil Mack, Nathan Hirayama and, captain John Moonlight are surrounded by talented yet unproven commodities. Add to that the late announcement of the arrival of Liam Middleton  as coach, it makes you wonder, perhaps their formula has become a little too diluted and doesn’t have enough time to still be effective.

England –  Simon Amor’s side finished a disappointing fourth last season.  They were inconsistent and didn’t win any leg  of the series. They finished a very distant fourth when compared to the top two of New Zealand and South Africa. Amor hopes to have a side not riddled with injuries like last season….Will a full training and warm-up period and a fit squad improve on last season’s finish?

France – The French have taken the battle for Olympic qualification very seriously. The FFR has poured more money into the program and helped to make the likes of  Terry Bouhraoua and Paul Albaladejo full time 7s specialists. With the amount of foreigners filling up the #Top14, you would think there would be more young tyros for the FFR to use on the 7s side. However, that requires a certain level of cooperation between the FFR and the Ligue de National Rugby. Their relationship is adversarial at best. All of this means that there is a shortage of quality and team spirit to push France from 10th to loftier heights….Could this be the year that the squad breaks through?

Ben RyanFiji – The Ben Ryan era in Fiji began last season and saw them finish 3rd. That is a good finish considering the Union at one point violated IRB policy on finances and were subsequently denied funding. This left Ryan to find benefactors and even use his own money to cover some costs. This was quite a shame considering that Ryan moved his whole family to Fiji for the job and stepped down from head coach position at  well organized RFU. Don’t cry for Ryan yet though. In Fiji, he has a nation that is obessesed with 7s and has been a conveyer belt of new talent each year. It began with the original 7s great Waisale Serevi and continues to this day. Including, the 2013-14 player of the series, Samisoni Viriviri. This season Viriviri has taken a Top14 contract so there is an opportunity for a new person to shine. Joji Raqamate might be that guy but in a country where kids grow up dreaming about 7s success before 15s, expect a meteoric rise to fame by a previously unknown commodity…Will Ryan’s system instill the right amount of structure for these kids to win it all?

Kenya – Last season was a transition year for Kenya as Paul Treu took the reins from Mike Friday. Treu and Kenya finished 7th– 2 places lower than under Friday’s management. This is not to knock Treu at all. Treu is a quality coach in his own right after taking the South African Blitzbokke to second place in the series the year Friday got Kenya to 5th. However in Kenya, Treu now faces challenges like the axing of national hero Collins Injera along with 9 other tour veterans after a dispute with the players over wages. Off the field issues like that hamper Treu’s ability to develop players and create a cohesive atmosphere…. Will the players and Treu be able to turn the adversity into a uniting factor and break into the top 4?

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.

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Born in Osu, Accra, Ghana, West Africa, Junoir Blaber is a rare commodity; while most Ghanians eat, sleep and dream Soccer (football), Junoir is all about Rugby. A self-proclaimed Rugbyologist, he has been involved in Rugby as a ref, coach, administrator and player since Columbus discovered Ohio. His useful/trivial rugby knowledge qualify Blaber as RWU's Senior Correspondent & known in rugby circles as The Rugby Rain Man. He can also be found moonlighting for our American partners at MeetTheMatts.com.

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