Dubai is celebrating their 50th anniversary of the tourney and finally, all the World Series matches will be played on the main stadium field. With that, let’s take a trip through the pools.
POOL A: USA, Canada, Russia, Brazil
The United States are on top of the Series table after round one, posting a victory in their home tourney in Glendale, Colorado. The Eagles beat Canada, New Zealand and Australia to earn back to back Cup titles (Biarritz 2019 being their first ever Cup win). With a long list of attack threats throughout the playing list, the US are a threat to not only win the Series but Olympic Gold as well. Coach Chris Brown has brought an extra level of cohesion to this side…which they’ll need against a challenging pool.
Canada came oh so close in the quarters in Colorado, losing 29-26 to the USA on a last second Cheta Emba try in a thrilling nine try affair. Ghislaine Landry is an elite finisher, Charity Williams and Julia Greenshields have more than enough speed to burn and Bianca Farella is an exceptionally well rounded team player that can do pretty much anything a coach could ask….a perfect fit for sevens. The 2016 Rio Bronze medalists in the squad are capable of upgrading those medals in Tokyo but their North American rivals remain a big obstacle (and a perfect sparring partner) on the way to the Olympics.
The Russians could be overlooked in this pool but don’t you dare. They add Nadezhda Sozonova (formerly Kudinova) and Marina Myasnikova (formerly Petrova) back to the team. Sozonova could be the piece this team needs all by herself to win gold in Tokyo. She’s got 35 tries and 361 points to her name in 18 events. She’s a multi-purpose threat that will open up a ton of room for Baizat Khamidova (100 tries/30 events), Alena Mikhaltsova (90 tries/25 events) and Elena Zdrokova (79 tries/19 events). That’s a ton of explosive, experienced talent.
And Brazil…welcome to the World Series again! They were -81 in pool play point differential and their closest match was a 20 point loss to England in the ninth place match. Tough ask for the level of play to come up against three such dynamic teams.
POOL B: Australia, Spain, Ireland, Fiji
The Aussie women are defending Olympic Champs and seem to be building form at the right time, losing to the US in the Glendale 7’s Final, 26-7 following routs of Russia (38-0) and France (40-0). Beyond all the obvious gold medal talent on the team, their development team keeps unearthing new gems. 18 year olds Faith Nathan and Georgia Hannaway will make their debuts in Dubai…joining fellow 18 year olds Madison Ashby and Sariah Paki on tour. Charlotte Caslick is a scratch via a hamstring pull but Ellia Green (121 tries/26 tourneys) and Emma Tonegato (116/27) are always game changers.
After missing out on Tokyo, all eyes were on Spain to see what they’d do on the World Series. They made an emphatic statement and came in 5th with an intense level of play in Colorado. Day two saw them knock off Russia (24-19) and Canada (12-7). That speaks volumes about the program and is more important than anything I’ll say here given the mental challenges Dubai poses in the heat. They’ve show they’re more than ready for whatever challenge arises.
Ireland also missed their chance at the Olympics, bowing out 17-7 in a Quarterfinal against England. Amee Leigh Murphy-Crowe leads the squad with 88 tries in 22 events. The Irish challenge is to diversify the team offense and open up more scoring opportunities against upper tier opponents. The tourney leads off with an Irish-Spanish clash that’ll be must see viewing.
Fiji may be the happiest group in Dubai after their 15’s side earned their way to the Rugby World Cup a week ago. They’ll be fired up and looking to avenge a winless stop in Colorado. I would suspect we’ll see a stronger effort defensively from them in this pool than was on display last time out.
POOL C: New Zealand, France, England, Japan
While Portia Woodman, Sarah Hirini and Michaela Blyde are out, you can hardly call this team vulnerable. Tyla Nathan Wong will captain a side with Kelly Brazier, Gayle Broughton and (Checks notes) World Rugby Sevens Player of the Year Ruby Tui in it. That team can win the whole thing…forget the injuries. They’re the defending Dubai champs and have a 31-14 win against France to show for a bronze medal finish in Colorado. They’re big favorites to win the pool.
France is a clear favorite in the Olympic Repechage event in June along with Russia to grab the two remaining spots in Tokyo. But pressing business awaits in Dubai…the women have been preparing for the intense Dubai heat in training and you’d have to think they’ll be stronger for it.
England seems to be transitioning out of a rebuilding phase with a solid mix of veterans and younger players with some tour experience. They got it done in the Olympic Qualifier in Russia, beating France in the semis 14-12 and winning the tourney with an impressive as heck 19-0 shutout of Russia in Kazan. New Coach Charlie Hayter will be looking to take the next step by beating France on tour as well. They were best of the rest in Colorado, capturing ninth place but that’s not good enough given England’s lofty standards.
Japan edged out Fiji in the consolation bracket in Colorado and gave England a run (14-21 loss) in pool play. As Olympic hosts, they’ll be looking to seize this opportunity for growth. They faced the Spanish sevens on the practice pitch on Monday and will have a development side at the Dubai Invitational as well.
Overall: Hard to pick against the US given their run of form but I’ll take New Zealand to strike back and repeat in Dubai thanks to a bit of an easier pathway through to the final.
– Dan Mason
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