TOKYO, JAPAN – Rugby in Japan is doing well for itself. They will host the Rugby World Cup 2019, they are one of the few tier 2 nations with a viable pro league, the national 15s team has had a positive run of winning or being competitive in matches and of course, they have a leg on the World Rugby Organization HSBC Sevens World Series. It still has some issues over player depth and match attendance but let’s focus on the positives. The positive is that this is the 7th leg of the 2014-15 Sevens World Series and the Tokyo 7s takes place this weekend. The series looks as tight as ever and Japan is about to witness some really exciting rugby.
The USA @Eagles7s had a mixed tournament in Hong Kong. The Eagles made the cup playoffs for a record fourth consecutive tournament, their longest streak in their history as a core member of the sevens circuit. They drew England in pool play, were knocked out of the Cup quarterfinals by Samoa and lost the Plate final to Australia. Meanwhile Fiji won their second straight tournament of the series, third overall, so that they are now have more tournament wins than Series leader South Africa. However due to a lack of consistency in other tournaments, they are 2 points behind South Africa for the lead. Defending Series champions New Zealand sit in third, the unfortunate victims in Fiji’s two consecutive tournament wins. The All Black 7s side are just one point behind Fiji and three points behind South Africa. However before we look at the global stage, let’s look at the 3 main issues effecting the US side.
Team changes (+/-): None. With the tournament so far from the USA soil and all squad members fit, the squad stays the same.
Big Game Hunting: Nothing has changed on this front. Only one win against the top 5 teams in the standings (South Africa, New Zealand, Fiji, Australia, and England) all series. The sole USA victory was when they beat Fiji for a plate win. Strangely, it is this loss that is currently denying Fiji series leader status. The Eagles have had draws and they are being competitive so that is progress from previous seasons. A few more top 5 scalps may not happen this season but that doesn’t mean it should not be demanded of the team.
Staying Focused: Not beating on of the top 5 is one thing but losing to Samoa is hard to fathom. It is no disrespect to Samoa. Samoa are known to be an inconsistent side but on their day, they can be dangerous. The talent and ability that Samoa possessed was no surprise to anyone but if as a team, the USA stayed focus, didn’t dig itself a whole, it is a game they could and should have won. At this point, the USA should believe that the only teams that have a right to beat them are those higher ranked than them.
What does this mean going in to the tournament?
Optimist’s view: This should be a fifth straight cup playoffs and with luck a 4th place finish.
Cynic’s view: Another tough group and there is a nagging feeling that this good streak can’t last. The wheels will fall off this weekend and the USA will not make the cup playoffs. A bowl final finish is on the cards.
My view: The cynic is just nervous and afraid to believe. This team qualifies for the Cup playoffs and the only loss they have all weekend will be in cup quarters as they will win the Plate.
Men’s Eagles Sevens | Japan Sevens
v Kenya – Friday, April 3 – 10:50 PM ET
v Canada – Saturday, April 4 – 2:08 AM ET
v South Africa – Saturday, April 4 – 5:58 AM ET
Japan 7s: Three Points, three places. It is tighter than Declan Yeat‘s belt after Easter Sunday dinner. Beyond the race in the top 3, there is a race for fourth place which Australia is desperately clinging on to.
Here are our pool previews
Fiji are on fire right now, so you have to take them to win this group. Ben Ryan‘s old team, England are not on fire as much though still in good form. They will take second easily. A young Wales will put up a fight but they are still too raw to present a threat. The Hong Kong 7s side will struggle on day 1 but could have a good day 2 since they will be competing in back to back high pressure tournaments.
Oddly, this is the exact same pool from Hong Kong. New Zealand should take first but it is not as straight forward as it use to be because of how good Australia have been under Welshman Geriant John. The Kiwis will still top the group but just narrowly. The Aussies will take second and like they finished in Hong Kong, Scotland will take third and Portugal will be fourth.
South Africa is number 1 in the world and the last time they were in the same group as the USA they finished second. It will likely not happen again as they will win the group and the USA will finish second. Kenya are starting to round into form and will fight it out with Canada for third place. Based on current form, we are leaning toward Kenya winning it and Canada bringing up the rear.
This is a favorable draw for Samoa, so you would figure that they would continue with their good form and top this group. However, this Samoa side has yet to prove it has what it takes to preform at top level in back to back tournaments. With that said, our gut tells us that Argentina will win this group. France will have a good round and take second place. An under-performing Samoa will take third and host Japan will have a solid day two after a tough day 1 as they finish last in group play.
With all that factored in, here are our predictions for playoffs and title winners:
Cup: South Africa
Second: New Zealand
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And as always, stay low and keep pumping those legs.