LONDON, ENGLAND – The HSBC Sevens World Series has reached its final leg, taking place in the nation where rugby was born, England. The home of English Rugby is Twickenham and this is where the final act in this season long drama unfolds. Off the field, England’s Rugby Football Union have tried to change the theme from “fancy dress” to under the sea, limit crowds and close the bars early in and around the stadium… I kid you not. Upset fans plan to show up in fancy dress, nonetheless, but local residents have made demands to make it less of a party and more family friendly… and the RFU is apparently listening.
On the pitch, it looks like the Fijians are a lock to win back to back series titles, as long as they can make the Cup playoffs. It should be doable for the Fijians but as we have seen in the last two legs, there are teams further down in the standings looking to make a statement, so anything can happen. All these sub-plots guarantee a fantastic finish.
The USA has picked the worst time to slump. The Eagles performed well on Day 1 in Hong Kong. Since that first day, however, they have ranged from performing mediocre to very poor on second days in Hong Kong, Singapore and Paris. After the first leg of the series in Dubai, the Eagles were ranked third but overall have stayed at fifth most of the year. The current three tournament slump in form, combined with the improved play of Argentina, has seen the Pumas overtakE the Eagles for fifth place in the standings, though.
Sixth was where the Eagles finished last season and it was their highest finish ever, which they capped by winning last year’s London 7s. Head Coach Mike Friday has said that, “Sixth may have been satisfactory for previous Eagles teams, but not now. There are no excuses for the kind of performances that we have seeing.” So the pressure is on from fans and from within to play better rugby. Can the Eagles do it?
Let’s look at the 3 key issues going into this tournament:
Team changes (+/-): There is 1 change to the USA squad from Paris: Ben Leatigaga replaces Nate Ebner. It shouldn’t be read into as meaning too much. Friday has been giving opportunity to players with the Rio Olympics right around the corner. Leatigaga has impressed with the Falcons and in training, so his time has rightfully come.
Finish Strong: The USA need a good tournament. It this the final stop before the Olympics and the team needs some momentum because it will be a long flight back to the Olympic Training Center if they perform poorly. They did it last year and though no one is asking them to win it all again, making the cup playoffs and finishing top 6 will work.
Time to be clutch: More often than not, when there has been a “must-win” game or a match against a top four opponent, the USA has collapsed. If Friday’s boys are to have a good tournament, they must find a way to win that “must-win” pool game and then must take down a top side to finish in the top 6 in this tournament.
Optimist’s View: The Eagles upset Samoa in pool play. They then win the first game of day 2 before losing the next two.
Cynic’s View: It will be Paris Part Deux as they win one match in pool play before going out in the Bowl semi-final.
My View: I see the USA missing the Cup playoffs but playing much better on day 2 and winning the bowl.
The series title all but belongs to Fiji – barring a collapse of epic proportions. Should that collapse occur, South Africa and New Zealand are in position to try and win it. With Kenya winning in Singapore and Samoa winning Paris, not to mention the improved play of France and Argentina, the lower ranked teams are out not to be dismissed. There are no easy games and anyone can win any game.
Here are our pool previews:
South Africa should win this group but they will face a stern challenge from Samoa. The Samoans have been playing better in the last two tournaments and, as has been mentioned, just won in Paris. It will be a dog fight to win the pool. The USA will struggle to make the Cup quarters based on their recent performances and the top teams in the pool. Canada once again are in a tough pool and their poor form seems to lead to the likelihood they will finish last.
Fiji will do what is necessary to secure the title and dig deep to win this group. England has struggled all season but it appears that home field advantage makes a difference to good sides if France are anything to go by, so we expect them to upset the Aussies and claim second. This leaves Australia to disappointingly finish third with Wales coming in last.
The France have hit a rich vein form and have made the top 4 in the last two tournaments. Kenya is likely to perform well enough to win second and maybe surprise some in knockout play. Scotland have finished third in pool play and gone on to play well in the knockout the rounds in the last two tournaments and it will be same story this time. That leaves Portugal to be fourth as they just in a tough group.
New Zealand will top this group but based on recent form they will be challenged by Argentina. The Argies have had some good tournaments, especially the last two rounds of play. The two sides will definitely finish top of the pool while Russia will come in the third as their form makes them much better than Brazil who will be last.
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.
Second: New Zealand
Third: South Africa
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And as always, stay low and keep pumping those legs.