Men’s 2020 Sydney Sevens Preview

To repeat myself…Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way right off the top! I gave the no Quarterfinals format a shot & I hated it. I would much rather see those exciting head to head quarters than have placements solely decided by pool performance.
I also think we need to give World Rugby some serious leeway here as they are acting on perfectly valid feedback in making these changes in the first place. Speaking of feedback, I assume they’re getting plenty of that now and will make some changes for the next pair of stops.
Off to the pools we go….

POOL A: New Zealand, Kenya, Fiji and Wales

The All Blacks Sevens side won in Hamilton, defending home turf as the Black Ferns did. The Cup win gives New Zealand a 15 point lead over South Africa and France to top the World Series ladder. Also, New Zealand won in Sydney last season so all eyes will be targeting them this weekend (as usual, right?).

As always, Fiji would love to target their rivals and hand them a loss!! Fiji sit 7th on the Series ladder and have been surprise underperformers this season as reigning World Series Champs. Only once have they finished in the top half this season in three tries and patience may be thinning as the 2020 Series title fades from reach. Jerry Tuwai leads the team with both the captain’s armband and with his 126 tries in 51 events.

Kenya’s 10th place status belies their strength as a side this year. A tough 24-19 loss to England got them off on the wrong foot…which they followed with a shocking draw versus Japan….followed of course by a 36-14 thumping of South Africa. Yeah, I got nothing too. This side is a threat to win a tournament if they can find a little consistency or just ride a hot streak on a weekend like this one.

The Welsh seem destined for relegation as they have a scant four points in three tour events this season. Even Japan, a non-core side, sit ahead of the Welsh on the ladder. Will Jones is set to make his debut in the #5 jersey this weekend while Captain Luke Treharne and Ben Roach make their 38th events to lead the team. Some of that experience will be required to set the squad straight.

POOL B: France, Argentina, South Africa, Samoa

France are in a tie for second on the Series ladder with 48 points following their silver medal in Hamilton. That’s 17 clear of 2019 champs Fiji and 9 ahead of their English rivals. Les Bleus will face a stern test in this incredibly tough pool. Thibaud Massoleni is back in France after injuring his ankle while Stephen Parez makes his milestone 50th appearance in Sydney.
Argentina sit in fifth themselves on the ladder. Save a 38-7 opening match disaster against Australia, it was a great weekend for the Pumas. 40-0 winners over Samoa, 26-10 over Fiji and a 19-17 triumph over Kenya to earn 7th place. Fernando Luna makes his 50th appearance for Argentina.

South Africa’s shock loss isn’t really that much of a shock. A 21-19 defeat to England left them with short odds of making the semis and the resulting letdown allowed a very motivated Kenya team to take the spoils as I mentioned earlier. Justin Geduld will earn his 50th appearance and has 1,025 points to show for his first 49 tourneys. Expect a well-coached team like this one to bounce back strongly this weekend.

Samoa struggled in Hamilton after a 19-12 loss to Fiji and didn’t recover until beating Wales in the 15th place match, 21-7. #11 Joe Perez’s 51 tries pace the squad but defense will be the order of the week after allowing 99 points in just four matches.

POOL C: Australia, USA, Scotland, Japan
Home sweet home for the Aussie 7’s in Sydney. They were bronze medalists in Hamilton, losing a 17-14 heartbreaker to the eventual champs New Zealand. The big loss is Ben O’Donnell, who is out for the year with a torn ACL. Luke Morahan will be in the #13 jersey as he puts his hand up for a shot in an Olympic year. Bristol have allowed him to join the team during the Six Nations break. Expect him to play at some stage so he can qualify for the pre-Olympic training camp.

The USA are loaded with talent but they have been put in some tough spots this season. Cape Town dealt them a pool of death with Fiji and South Africa and the new format meant a loss to the home side in New Zealand meant curtains for their Cup hopes. Ben Pinkelman takes over the captaincy with Madison Hughes sidelined as a precaution and Ben Broselle is out after a head injury check last weekend. Cody Melphy (3 events) and Marcus Tupuola (7 events) join the team as replacements.

Scotland will get another shot at the US after suffering an opening 24-7 defeat last weekend in Hamilton. An 11th place finish was achieved with a win over Ireland (24-19) but the Scots are always eyeing the Cup semis and have the tactical chops to achieve that end. Patience and team play are the hallmarks here and every match with them is a minefield.

Japan drew with a strong Kenya side and barely lost to Spain (19-15) in the 13th place match in Hamilton. With only 112 events as a 13-man side, the Japanese will gain more valuable experience in preparation for Tokyo 2020.


POOL D: England, Canada, Ireland, Spain

England had an amazing day one in Hamilton, knocking off Kenya (24-19) and South Africa (21-19). A fourth place finish was in the cards with day two losses to France (5-10) and Australia (21-33). Dan Norton and his 1,759 points are as big a threat as ever while former star player James Rodwell looks to follow up his successful head coaching debut last week with a medal in Sydney.

Canada clubbed their North American rivals 28-7 in the 5th place match in New Zealand and are only four series points behind the Americans on the ladder. The 419 combined World Series events amongst the team are the third most this weekend so that experience could be an X factor in an exciting pool.

Jordan Conroy leads the entire World Series in tries for the season with 15 and he’s as dynamic as anyone on tour. That threat is a big key for the Irish. They lost 26-21 to Canada last weekend but don’t be shocked if that table turns. Also, they’ll get a rematch with Spain who they beat 28-17 in Hamilton. They’ve split a pair of clashes this season.

Spain is out of the Olympic chase following a quarterfinal loss to Portugal in the European qualifiers so they have a different pace to their season than most of their rivals who are looking with one eye towards Tokyo. That said, the Spanish are quite capable of beating anyone in the pool as evidenced by a 21-17 loss to France last weekend.

SEMIS AND BEYOND
Am taking as my final four: New Zealand, South Africa, the United States and England
And as my champion: South Africa

Dan Mason – @Rugby_Global on Twitter – give us a follow, please? Thanks!!