New York, NY – It is once again time for the kick-off of the World Rugby HSBC Sevens World Series. This season begins with the Glendale USA 7s. 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.
Going into this season, there has been a lot of talk about how awesome last year was and what this year holds. Especially with the expansion to six stops for the women. The stops in the series this year are Glendale, Dubai, Sydney, Japan, Langford and Paris. This allows teams who have bad start a bit more time to catch up but also means the overall health and use of the available roster will be critical for coaches. Looking at the upcoming season, Here is a brief review of the teams.
Australia – The womens 7s program in Australia is one of the best in the world. Actually considering they hold the Olympic and current series title, it is the best in the world. They just pipped New Zealand for the title last year and just re-signed 8 players from their successful Rio Olympics team so they are experienced and they plan on introducing some fresh blood this season. Expect them to finish first or second this season.
Canada – Canada are the bridesmaids of the Womens 7s World Series (WSWS). Because they don’t finish worse than 6th, 90% of the time they are at top 4, if not occasionally win it all but they can never finish more than 3rd in the standings. The problem for them is usually they make the semi-finals and draw one of Australia or New Zealand, teams 1 and 2, respectively. So they have to upset one of those sides to make the final and the other to win it. It is a tough ask for any team and to be fair, sometimes they pull it off but sometimes they get stopped by the first team. Until they can knock out the two brides, they are stuck in 3rd.
China – Lets welcome the new kids to the big show. Don’t take them lightly as to win a spot on the circuit, the Chinese had to win the Hong Kong 7s qualifier so they beat some decent teams to get here. The problem is the step up is huge and even perennial Asian power, Japan, couldn’t avoid relegation. This doesn’t leave much hope for China.
England – The English have become a bit of an enigma. It seems the constant juggling act of players and funds between 15s and 7s doesn’t allow them to field their best teams so you often seen them land in the middle of the pack in the standings. There has been no indications that they will be any different this season.
Fiji – The Fiji women don’t get the respect they deserve. Their men are the toast of rugby always playing champagne footy and never failing to thrill, even if they don’t always win. However, their women have to achieve their success with not nearly as much support because women playing sport don’t get much support everywhere you go but it is harder in developing nations with deep patriarchal societies. Yet these ladies fight every tournament and once or twice a season, it all clicks and they make a barnstorming run into the cup round to finish 5th or 6th. I expect much of the same, this season but I believe they will get more fan support.
France – After being the best side on continental Europe, the Federation de France Rugby (FFR) decided to pour more money into the program to try and improve the global standing of the team, the French women finally broke through. They were able to push past Canada and finish third in the overall standings. The question for them is can they prove that it was not a fluke? Are they able to move on and regularly make the semi-finals and even win a final? Or will they regress and the clock strike midnight? I think they will still be a good side but I do see the USA and Canada putting them under intense pressure for 3rd place in the standings, so they may not be able to hold on to it.
Ireland – Ireland was one of the new breed of teams to get good at 7s in the recent years and have be able to make the big stage. However, they were saved from being relegated by a Japan team that struggled even more. They will be once again be in a relegation battle unless some of the new talent comes good. They will be regularly fighting for the Challenge trophy and rarely make the knockout round.
New Zealand – There is not much than can be said about the Blackness. They are perennially best in the world. They may get beaten for the 1 spot occasionally by Australia but they are a lock to make the semi-final barring some rare implosion. The series title will be a shootout between them and the Aussies.
Russia – Russia still has the doping cloud as a result of their Olympic teams testing positive for HGH hanging over them but they are still allowed to participate as the 7s team has come up clean. They started out last season hot then cooled off drastically in the last two legs. From top 6 to bottom or second from bottom. This may go to roster depth or inexperience but if they can get it right they can be another team that can crack the top 5.
Spain – Spain is a military medium squad with occasional flirtations with top 6 finishes. They are consistent but can’t seem to finish well higher up the table. They are in need of fresh blood and it will be interesting to see who comes up from the youth ranks to help them in this situation.
USA – New coach is not that big of a deal as the series has had its share especially the USA. However, it will be a test to see how the team plays. They also have the first stop in the series so that may be an advantage. The biggest hurdle for the USA will be consistency. You can’t go from second place to 10th or so for two tournament then go back to top 6 finishes. If they can consistently finish top 6 they may be able to wrestle 3rd place away from the Canadians and French.
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And as always, stay low and keep pumping those legs.