Paris, France – The HSBC Sevens World Series has reached its penultimate leg, this one taking place in a Rugby Romantics nirvana, the beautiful City of Lights… Paris. The choosing of Paris over the more historic 7s site of Glasgow, did ruffle feathers but it’s too late to get into that debate now because kickoff looms. After a 10-year absence from the circuit, the Paris 7s returns as the 9th leg in the extended 10-city tour series. With the race for the series title being extremely close this year, Stade Jean-Bouin is set to see fireworks in what looks to be a enthralling tournament.
The USA’s showing in the last tournament in Singapore was simply not good enough. As we predicted in our preview of the Sinagpore stop, the Eagles struggled in the second leg of a back-to-back legs and failed to show up big against a top 4 aside. The streak of making the Cup playoffs in 10 consecutive tournaments was snapped and they couldn’t even finish with any hardware as they lost the Bowl final. Even if you consider that result a fluke, the Eagles still have to prove they are a legit threat to make the Cup semi-finals every tournament and right now they are not.
Let’s look at the 3 key issues going into this tournament:
Team changes (+/-): There are 2.5 changes to the USA squad from Singapore. Pat Blair is replaced by Ben Pinkelman after the latter missed out on the last round due to his academic commitments; he is still a student at Colorado State University. Head Coach Mike Friday’s 12-player squad also sees Thretton Palamo return to the mix in place of Peter Tiberio as Palamo looks to deliver on his potential once and for all. The half change is that Carlin Isles is still injured, so Nate Ebner retains his place. To be fair to Ebner, though, he fully earned this call -up through an impressive camp and not just through sheer convenience of his location as in the previous two tournaments.
Bounce back: The USA has proven it can bounce back from a poor tournament. Singapore was undoubtedly the Eagles worst tournament of the season. With only two legs left until Rio and after their last tournament there is a mixture of hope and expectation that the Eagles will put it together a quality performance.
The elephant in the room: Same as it ever was, there are no shortcuts to becoming elite. The USA must defeat one of the top 4 sides to win this tournament. The Eagles can take heart by looking at that great run made last tournament by Kenya which culminated with them defeating Fiji for the title. Greatness awaits!
Optimist’s View: The Eagles get their act together and make the cup playoffs. They then win the first game of day 2 before losing the next two.
Cynic’s View: The Eagles continue to struggle and repeat Singapore by failing to win the bowl.
My View: I see the USA doing well enough to be second in the pool and win the Plate final.
The series title remains a battle between top sides like Fiji, South Africa and New Zealand. Time is running out for the latter two to stop the former from winning it all for a second straight season. The Kenya’s victory in the last round shows that even if teams can’t win the series they are going to do all they can to win a tournament. Failure to ready to win every game regardless of their opponents lowly will cost that higher ranked side dearly.
Here are our pool previews:
Despite winning Singapore we have Kenya coming in second in this pool. That is because New Zealand has added the likes of Sonny bill Williams, Ardie Savea, and the Ioane brothers. The Kiwis need to win the next two legs to win the series and they appear primed to do that. The Kenyans will be feeling confident and will fight with all they got to get first. Russia have the Olympic qualifiers coming up next month so they will put up a huge fight and use this tourney as preparation, beginning with pool play. Coming in last will unfortunately be our friends Portugal.
Fiji have called in some of their big guns including RWU class of 2013 member Samson Viriviri. They want to win the series and look to put it out of reach of their rivals after this weekend. Samoa will try and keep some momentum going and lean on some 15s players that are available for the weekend and hopefully win second. Wales and Scotland have been up and down this series. Either of the two could snatch second from Samoa on their day since Samoa can have off days too. However, we are expecting Wales to finish third and Scotland last.
This is the toughest group we have seen in a while. South Africa should win this group though, at least based on rankings. Australia is ranked higher so that makes them second but it is a very tenuous second with England third. The English are not as strong as in previous seasons but they are always dangerous and it would be foolish to count them out of any match-up. That leaves Brazil to be fourth as they are nothing more than cannon fodder in this group.
Yes… I just said Pool C was the toughest pool but if there is such a thing, Pool D is the most difficult pool to predict – ever. By standings, The USA is supposed to finish on top but based on momentum, Argentina should be in high regard, since they finished fourth in Singapore. Then you factor in a fully fit France with all top players available and at home. So it only gets tougher. Not to mention a team like Canada that can be hard to beat on their day. So, I dropped any kind of a rational process and names were picked out of a hat and that is how we ended up with how the pool will finish.
A live stream will be provided to viewers who want to watch the action on World Rugby’s website. And now, here are our predictions for playoffs and the team that wins promotion to core status will be.
Cup: New Zealand
Third: South Africa
That is 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, James Harrington, Jake Frechette, Scheenagh Harrington, Ronan Nelson and Declan Yeats, respectively
And as always, stay low and keep pumping those legs.