Hamilton Sevens Preview
We’re six months away from the kickoff of Tokyo 2020 and the pressure is ramping up for spots on the plane to Japan for the teams involved and the competition level on the field is rising as a result.
On the Series itself, the format shifts in Hamilton. We’ll jump from the pool stages straight into the semi-finals! For the Women’s draw, the pool winners and the best second place finisher will get shots at the Cup. On the Men’s side….only the pool winners move to the semis. So, there will be a premium on being up for every match as one slip up will mean no shot at the Cup!
Let’s talk about the Women’s Draw:
POOL A: New Zealand, Fiji, England, China
The most pressure this weekend may be on the host side. It’s their debut in front of a home crowd for a World Series event and that’s always been a tough spot on tour. New Zealand did win Gold in Cape Town…backing up a Gold in Dubai….and now sit six points clear of the Aussies on the World Series ladder. Stacey Fluhler (nee Waaka) is second on the try leaderboard with 16 this season and has stepped up her game at a perfect time for the team. The Black Ferns will add Michaela Blyde & Captain Sarah Hirini back to the team to further strengthen the defending World Series Champs.
Fiji gave the hosts one heck of a fight in Cape Town, losing 12-10 before playing a dud in their Quarterfinal against Australia (38-7). England has shown signs here and there of being out of their rebuilding phase and did so against NZ in the Cape Town quarters, losing 26-21.
POOL B: Australia, USA, Russia & Brazil
This is one heck of a pool. Any of the squads save Brazil could win it. Unfortunately for the Brazilians, it looks more and more like they’ll be facing relegation…even at this early stage. A pool draw like this sure doesn’t help.
The Russians disappointed in Cape Town with a 38-19 loss to Fiji, a 12-0 loss to NZ and a 31-0 defeat at the hands of France in the Quarters. The offensive cohesion has to improve & will be tested against the Aussies and Americans. Australia edged America 19-14 in the last set of pool play matches in Cape Town & worked their way to a Silver medal finish. The Australians are defending Olympic Gold Medalists and are incredibly capable of repeating in Tokyo. Their 480 points is only second to NZ by 9 overall and two of the top four try scorers this season are Australian: Emma Tonegato (17 – 1st) & Ellia Green (15 – T3). Adding to that is Emilee Cherry who is back in the squad following the birth of her daughter last June. Charlotte Caslick is out for the weekend.
The US had to wonder what might have been with a 15-14 loss in the Quarters following up the tight loss to Australia. But that’s the tour at the top, fine lines and thin margins separate the top squads. Alev Kelter leads the Series in points with 121 and the roster is incredibly deep with threats such as Kris Thomas, Naya Tapper and Kristi Kirshe available.
POOL C: Canada, France, Spain & Ireland
France edged the Canadians 14-12 in Cape Town 7’s pool play but Canada won the Bronze Medal rematch 22-17 and that’ll likely be the pool decider this weekend. While Spain have shown to be a solid franchise with some staying power, a 36-12 loss in pool play to France and a 28-7 defeat to Canada showed them to be a level below those squads at the moment. Meanwhile, the Irish scored seven points in pool play in Cape Town, which just ain’t gonna get it done at this level.
SEMIS & BEYOND
I like NZ, America, Canada & France to advance….just think Pool C is a bit friendlier for points differential, nothing against Australia. Am taking the Black Ferns to win their third straight tourney and their first ever at home on debut behind Michaela Blyde’s strong performance.
Men’s Hamilton Sevens:
POOL A: New Zealand, USA, Scotland & Wales
While the All Blacks 7’s are at home and looking to win their host tourney for the first time since 2016, the USA may be the team with the most to prove this weekend. Following a second place finish last season, the Eagles have slipped to 9th this season. A tough pool featuring South Africa and Fiji had more than a bit to do with that in Cape Town & with a clearer path & home side pressure on the Kiwis, the US could surprise the hosts & move through.
A pair of tight wins (26-24 over England and 22-19 over Spain) in pool play sent Scotland through to the Quarters in Cape Town but the All Blacks dispatched them 35-19. Meanwhile, the Welsh look the part of a relegation-worthy squad with only three Series points on the campaign.
POOL B: South Africa, Kenya, England & Japan
Kenya sit 11th on the Series ladder and you’d never know it by the feel of this team. Alvin Otieno is becoming a cult hero & mainstays like Andrew Amonde, Collins Injera and Billy Odhiambo make Kenya a real threat to win any pool.
South Africa brings seven changes to the side with Super Rugby losses and squad rotations in the Olympic year. But this is no “B” side…Werner Kok, Cecil Afrika and Branco DuPreez highlight the additions and they’ll bring a ton of experience with them.
Head Coach Simon Amor has joined England’s 15’s setup for the Six Nations so familiar face on tour James Rodwell will coach the team in New Zealand.
Meanwhile, Japan did manage to win a match in South Africa, slipping by Wales 19-15. They sit tied with Wales at the bottom of the table with three Series points.
POOL C: Ireland, Canada, France & Spain
If you’d asked me at the beginning of the tour which of these teams would be top three on the ladder, I’d have said Ireland. However, it’s the French that sit in third place after two stops of ten. The FFR was efficient and clinical in sweeping an all Euro Pool C in Cape Town over Spain, England and Scotland on their way to a Bronze medal finish.
This go round, they’ll have to deal with the Irish. The men in green made the top 8 in South Africa coming out of a tough, tough pool with Kenya, Australia and Samoa and are looking to build on that performance. Jordan Conroy is a massive threat at all times, leading the Series with 11 tries.
POOL D: Fiji, Samoa, Argentina & Australia
The men from Fiji are still a bit off form following a bottom eight placement in Dubai and a 4th place finish including an eye-opening loss to France (29-24) in the Bronze Medal match.
Argentina appears close to taking a step forward. Tough losses to NZ (19-14 in pool play) and France (19-10 in the Cape Town Quarters and 12-10 in Dubai) showed they’re capable against top flight competition. Samoa & the Aussies were bottom eight material in South Africa but both have the capability to be spoilers in the pool. Australia knocked off Samoa 24-14 last round but lost to them in the Cup Quarters in Dubai. The Aussies were strong in Dubai, crushing Ireland and beating the USA soundly.
SEMIS AND BEYOND:
I’ve got NZ, South Africa, Ireland and Fiji winning pools with Fiji winning the Final of the NZ Sevens for the third year straight.
by Dan Mason