HONG KONG, CHINA – Welcome to the Granddaddy of 7s tournaments. Well kind of Granddaddy, maybe the paternal granddaddy, with Scotland‘s the maternal granddaddy and birthplace of 7s. Long before the 7s series became a circuit, this was the 7s tournament that captured the world’s attention. It was the big party in Hong Kong that made every country want to have a party just like Hongers that led to the circuit. HK is the 7th stop of the series.
The USA had a great tournament in Japan by making their 1st Cup quaterfinal, defeating Canada and making the shield final. Meanwhile Fiji won their second tournament so that they are now even on tournament wins with AIG New Zealand All Black 7s team and the South African Blitzbokke. Fiji still trails the pair on the overall standings standing in third. However before we look abroad, let’s focus on the USA.
Positive Start: It doesn’t take a genius to know that if you have 3 pool games, it is important to win your first game. For the first time all series, the USA did that and tied their second match before losing their third. However, they haven’t shaken their penchant for slow starts. They dug themselves a hole against all three teams. They came back against Samoa and were able to tie Fiji. However, we believe the extra energy spent chasing their opponents is why they were only able to tie Fiji and then lost to France. It was too hard and exhausting. They lost their first match of day two to South Africa but showed resiliency against Canada but ended having to chase against Australia. The USA has managed to avoid starting tournaments slowing now they must develop and start matches faster.
Coach Hawkins: It appears the Polar Bear finally struck the right place with the roster and with Alex Magelby on board handling national development, the Bear has been free to focus on the field and it is yielding results.
Learning to Win: They did a surprising job of coming back in games that they would have previously lost. This is a huge step in the learning to win process. The hope is for them to develop into a team that can start fast then close out opponents.
Team changes (+/-): None. The same 12 man squad was named for the back to back legs of the series.
Optimist view: Just like last year, Japan was the start of a big second half of the series for the USA. The boys are having fun and are not burdened by the fear of relegation.
Cynic view: Making the shield final is great, but we let slip winnable matches against Fiji in pool play, SA in the Cup playoffs and Australia in the Plate final.
RWU view: After a long wait, progress was made. Now comes the key part, keeping it going. The boys have some self confidence. They came up short but learned to actually trust in each other. They are not where we would like them to be but they appear to be progressing there and as long suffering fans, we view that as huge progress.
Going Forward: Glad to have the 2012-2013 version of Zach Test back. We said we needed to see it and we did. Brett Thompson and Nick Edwards also stepped to the for front. The USA team is starting to show shape. They have a wide range of utility players and a couple of grinders. They are still missing a flyer without Carlin Isles but it was going to be impossible to replace that speed anyway. We hope Zach Test continues to grow into the game winner the team so desperately needs.
Hong Kong 7s: The tournament could be the one that allows New Zealand and South Africa to separate themselves from the likes of Fiji and England. However, anyone but the top two win it, especially Fiji (who appear to be rounding into form under Ben Ryan) it will be an outright dogfight through to the final match of the final tournament.
Here are our pool previews
Fiji are always dangerous. It is because of that they are the tournaments defending champs. However just like how the USA are rounding into form under their new coach, so too are Fiji and Ben Ryan is on another level to almost all the other coaches on the tour. They win this pool with ease. Kenya coach Paul Treu (in his first year with the team) is having trouble getting them to fulfill their potential but it could click at anytime. Wales are struggling to find form after their mid-season coaching change. Sri Lanka are the non-core team of the tour and though they are a rugby mad nation, they will be cannon fodder in this group.
South Africa barring a major banana peel should easily win this group. Australia and France will be in a tussle for the 2nd spot and in a coin flip of a pick, Australia will win it. Spain will unfortunately bring up the rear yet again. Try as they might, they are just outclassed.
This is a tricky group. England haven’t won HK in 7 years so Simon Amor‘s boys will be hungry. However, Geriant John‘s Canada will be angered by their performance in Japan as they have looked far better earlier in the series. This is in addition to an Argentina side that has proven to be cagey and unpredictable. With no rhyme or reason other than their current standings, we pick England to win this group with Canada in second, then Argentina, with Portugal in last.
New Zealand will dominate this pool without a problem, they are just that much better. We are betting on the USA building on the momentum from Japan and taking down Samoa again. Samoa will be fired up and will make the USA work. Samoa will take down a Scotland side that is horribly inconsistent and confirm their 3rd and 4th place finishes.
These next three pools are key because according to the IRB for the the 2013/14 season, there will be a two-stage promotion and relegation process comes into effect. Promotion to core team status for the 2014/15 campaign the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens, where 12 regional qualifiers (2 from each continental area union) will battle for the one promotion place on offer. Relegation from core team status will be decided at the end of the season, with the bottom-ranked of the 15 current core teams after round nine, the Marriott London Sevens, losing their ever-present status for the 2014/15 campaign. So here is a look at the twelve teams and how we think each pool will finish.
Russia is one of two nations of the 12 nations with a fully professional pool of players to select from, so they will finish first. Zimbabwe play a very exciting and dangerous brand of rugby but they struggle with discipline and will be 2nd. Chile is very conservative in their style and they will struggle, as a result of this. Barbados is similar to Zimbabwe but even more unstructured which will get punished at this level.
The hosts Hong Kong are very skilled at their rugby. However due to their size, the lack a great selection of dynamic athletes. They will be good enough to win this group though. Speaking of dynamic athletes, American Samoa is poised to take second place in this group and make Hong Kong work for their title. Italy lack skilled backs in 15s so I don’t see them having enough skill to really push on in this group. Tunisia, is a case of “thanks for playing price is right and he is your parting gift.”
Trinidad & Tobago
Japan are light years ahead of all the other non-core nations. They have a stop on the circuit and a pro league. They will cruise by in this group. Uruguay will put up a fight but a team full of professionals (Japan) versus college kids (Uruguay) will only end one way. The Cook Islands and Trinidad & Tobago are two sides of the same coin. They have intense passion and athleticism but not the structure to compete. In a coin flip, the Cook Islands finish 3rd.
With all that factored in, here are our predictions for playoffs and the team that wins promotion to core status will be.
Cup: South Africa
Second: New Zealand
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, DJ Eberle, Nick Hall, James Harrington, Cody Kuxmann, Jaime Loyd, Karen Ritter , Jamie Wall and Declan Yeats, respectively.
And until the next time… stay low and keep pumping those legs.