GREENWICH, CT – Coming off the World Rugby Organization’s first Olympics –via 7s – the 2016-17 HSBC Sevens Series will have a new look. Let’s get under the hood and see what’s happening.
Hot off a 4th place finish in Rio, Japan will replace Portugal, who was relegated after finishing last this past season. However, the most profound change is certainly the coaching shake-up that has occurred throughout the core teams. Legendary former All Blacks 7s coach Sir Gordon Tietjens stepped down after a disappointing finish in Rio and will now be leading Samoa… Golden boy Ben Ryan departed after leading Fiji to global dominance. His three-year stint included two World Series championships and the nation’s first ever Olympic gold medal… Taking Ryan’s place in 2017 will be former Hong Kong coach, Gareth Baber, but Nacanieli Cawanibuka will be leading for the first two events until then. As for New Zealand, Scott Waldrom and Tomasi Cama will be sharing the power until Clark Laidlaw takes the reins next year… Former New Zealand assistant coach Damain Karauna will attempt to continue Japan’s success as its new coach… Kenya grappled with inconsistency last year and hopes that former player, Innocent Simiyu, will be able to lead the team… Canada also hired former Samoa head coach Damian McGrath after failing to qualify for Rio.
The Favorite has to be… Fiji. They are riding a wave of success from last season and many of the same players are sticking around. They looked good earlier this month at Oceania Sevens where they topped Australia and Samoa in preparation for Dubai…
South Africa will be chasing Fiji with Cecil Afrika, Werner Kok, and Seabelo Senatla (all former World Rugby Sevens Player of the Year) anchoring the team. Despite finishing second in the World Series last year, the team only won one event. The Blitzboks should be aiming to continue its success after a bronze medal performance in Rio.
Australia has announced that that it is in a “rebuilding phase” and stated that its goal is to finish in the top eight in the series despite finishing fourth last year. This isn’t a complete surprise when you look at the composition of the player pool which is increasingly much younger following the departure of many veterans after the Olympics.
New Zealand is also in a reconstruction phase after its Olympics disappointment which saw it lose to Great Britain and Japan before being eliminated by Fiji. The Kiwis are certainty not without talent as they have veterans DJ Forbes and Tim Mikkelson, and young gun Rieko Ioane. Unlike many teams, the All Blacks have everything they need to win the series, they just need to win the mental game in order to get back to its winning ways.
Japan is a team with enormous break-out potential this season. The Olympic Games were their South Africa moment for 7s and with the Olympics being in Tokyo in 2020, I’m sure that the 7s program will be receiving the funding and training it needs to make it an even more competitive side in the next four years.
Currently, Kenya is experiencing internal problems. This is not new as the union has frequently been tight on funds the last few years, but this week Kenya’s seven players have refused to train leading up to the opening event in Dubai because of unpaid bonuses. Despite winning the Singapore stop last year, Kenya has not been able to replicate its 5th place performance from the 2012-13 season in the last few years and off the field distractions might get in the way this year.
Players To Watch:
Look out for Seabelo Senatla. He was the player of the year, last year and at 23 years old he has much more in the tank. Coming off a dominant season it should be interesting to see how he follows up this year. Phoenix Huanp-Nofoa turned heads this past year with his nifty steps and this season he could help lead a struggling Samoan team. He was nominated for Rookie of the Year last season and he has a great future ahead of him. Rieko Ioane is the future of the All Blacks. Just off of the All Blacks Autumn Tour, he received his first cap versus Italy and played well against France. Ioane got his first start with the 7s team at 17 and was the youngest player in Super Rugby with the Blues . The ten tournaments on this year’s circuit will be the same as last year with Dubai starting this weekend and London wrapping it up in May.
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