HAMILTON, NZ – Welcome to the Tron!! Aka Hamilton, New Zealand. There used to be an old joke of there being no fun things to do in Hamilton. Well that can be put to bed for one weekend, at least, as the HSBC 7s World Series has come to town. The tournament was in Wellington for the last few years but with the rest of New Zealand clamoring for the leg to be moved around and Wellingtonians strangely wanting the event to be less party and more family friendly. That is a lot of backstory for this 4th of 10 stops, but new legs/locations often warrant it. With that, let’s get to analyzing @Eagle7s for this tournament and my bold/precarious predictions on who will top pool play and win the tournament.
Resiliency can come in many forms. In general, it is how someone or something deals with adversity. In a sport like rugby, the test is often bouncing back from poor performances. For the 2017/2018 USA 7s team, it is playing without key players. In the first leg in Dubai, they lost World Rugby 7s Player of the Year, Perry Baker, after 5 minutes due to a concussion. Baker comes back in Sydney and captain Madison Hughes is lost after that first match and has an indefinite timetable for return. Following match number 3 in Sydney, unsung stalwart Stephen Tomasin goes out with a leg injury for an indefinite amount of time, too. These aren’t bench or fringe players that are going down; these are the first names on the team sheet. The team had to adjust after losing each player and stay competitive. Hopefully everyone stays healthy this tournament, as I checked with @USARugby and there were no sympathy cards in the mailbox. This is the nature of the beast and the onus is on the team to continue to show their resiliency.
3 Key Issues:
Team changes (+/-): There are 1.5 changes to the USA squad from Sydney. The Eagles left for Sydney with 13 men so despite the loss of two key players, only one is being flown out. Nicklas Boyer who impressed with the 7s program’s second team the Falcons at the Sudamerica Sevens gets the honor of being flown out. Boyer does have good rugby genes being a Jesuit of Sacramento and Cal-Berkley rugby product so hopefully he finds his feet fast.
Carlin Isles Re-Invention: Coming back from injury is hard; it is doubly hard for a speed merchant like Isles. A person can physically heal from an injury but it may take half to a full season to adjust. In the meantime, Mr Fast Just Got Faster has to adjust to not being the fastest guy on the field and find ways to still be dangerous in attack in the interim.
Bench Management: Head Coach Mike Friday, usually goes 11 deep, with the 12th man picking up mop up duty. However, in Sydney he was down to 10 guys and the amount of minutes played by a guy like Matui Leuta, who stepped up with Tomasin out, was a lot for. Now he will have to start the tournament, meaning he will have to be monitored. Friday may push the starters to play even better so he can finish games with bench. Either way, the team ran out of gas by the cup semi-final and to finish better, Friday will have to balance how he juggles the playing time of a raw player like Joe Schroeder and newcomer Chris Mattina with guys like Pinkelman and Baker.
Optimist’s View: They repeat Sydney by getting out of group stage, winning the Cup quarter-final before back to back loses put them 4th.
Cynic’s View: They struggle on day one going 1-2. Before making things click the second day and take the Challenge Trophy.
My view: I see them making the Cup playoffs because they are in a pool they can win, then losing back to back before finishing with a flurry to claim 7th.
Last time out, I mentioned how unpredictable the tournaments are getting and that every tournament can end up being up for grabs. A perfect example was Australia getting hot and all of a sudden – they won their first leg in ages. You can only count on 4 sides (South Africa, New Zealand, Fiji and England) making the quarterfinals… rom there on it is a crap shoot.
Here are my pool previews:
Fiji and Australia will top this group without breaking a sweat. They are light years ahead of the other two pool members. Wales will likely finish third as Spain is still struggling to be relevant in this series.
Papua New Guinea
This is another pool, that is relatively easy to predict. South Africa is the best team on the series right now and England is historically top 4 so the pair will easily top the pool. Then we have Russia who have not been that impressive but have the fortune of having Papua New Guinea in the pool. PNG is one of the few teams Russia should beat with ease.
This pool gets a little trickier. Based on current form New Zealand and Argentina should top the pool. However, Scotland is capable of a shock win and so are France against New Zealand and both sides can definitely get a win against Argentina. Despite that all, I will bet that this group finishes as ranked and New Zealand and Argentina top the pool with Scotland third and France last.
This was somewhat easier pool to predict because the USA is the highest ranked and most consistent side in this pool so its easy to envision them as pool winners. Samoa, Kenya and Canada are all erratic sides that can change tournament to tournament. I favor Samoa to come in second on the basis that by being in New Zealand, they will be close to a home game and get a great fan turnout to spur them on. Kenya are also unpredictable but since I picked Samoa to come second, despite their form in Sydney, I have to pick Kenya to be third. Canada performed poor in Sydney so they draw the short straw and will be last.
Final standings will be:
Cup: New Zealand
Third: South Africa
That’s all for now, please feel free to comment below, look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter@: @RugbyWrapUp, @Junoir Blaber, @MeetTheMatts, @Luke Bienstock, @Ronan Nelson, @Brian C Cole and @Declan Yeats.
And remember to stay low and keep pumping those legs!