It’s the season finale of the World Rugby Sevens Series as the circuit heads to the home of English Rugby; Twickenham, for the HSBC London Sevens. With nine rounds done and dusted and with the winner crowned last weekend, Round 10 maybe a mere formality but more is at stake then bragging rights. From the May 20-21, Fiji and England battle for second place and ‘London Pride’.
Last weekend’s giant killers Scotland are the defending champions on Twickenhams coveted surface, and they will go all out to retain their title. Russia and Japan have their own little battle to attend to, with Japan hunting for a top eight finish to survive the relegation battle. If anything has been learned from this season, you cannot predict how things will unfold–as much as one can’t predict the English weather.
But still, the fans will enjoy the colour and rugby sevens action, as well as the warm beer.
HSBC London Sevens: A Battle for Second Spot
The battle for second place is ramps-up between Fiji and England this weekend. Just the three points separates them on the standings ladder. Fiji is rebuilding, and have been grooming new players all season long while England; like South Africa, have their core side. The top four sides in the world at the moment have the Sevens Rugby World Cup and Commonwealth Games next season to plan for–the final round of the World Series is still a time to develop.
With the norm in the ‘world order of sevens’ disappearing into thin air every new season, the unpredictable English weather could be the only certain thing at the moment. The scripts are re-written each week, with new stars emerging as the competition trends to an all time high.
The game is booming. Will the top four sides continue to rule the game? Or will a ‘Wales like team’ in 2009 emerge and defy the odds? The range of winners over the last two years proves this. And while more questions than answers have been asked as the season ends this weekend, the fan engagement level will be hitting the stadium roofline by Sunday afternoon.
Qualification For San Francisco Up For Grabs
One more spot is also up for grabs in London, as Samoa look to join 12 other teams heading to San Francisco, 2018. The Rugby World Cup Sevens will be held from July 20-23 next year (for Men and Women). The tournament was last held in 2013 in Moscow, where New Zealand walked away with both the Men and Women’s title.
There will be 24 Men’s teams competing in San Francisco. The top eight finishers from Moscow: South Africa, Fiji, New Zealand, Kenya, Wales, France, Australia and this week’s hosts England have qualified directly; with United States as hosts.
After the Paris Sevens, Canada, Argentina and Scotland all secured qualification, with the possibility that Samoa may earn an entry with a solid end-of-season performance. The final 11 spots will be decided by regional qualifiers, between June 2017 and April 2018.
But first things first, let’s wrap the season here in London.
HSBC London Sevens: The LOWDOWN
Pool A – South Africa, United States, Wales, Kenya
South Africa won the HSBC Paris Sevens last weekend and, the World Series with it. They have shown that they are willing to go all the way to make this season a memorable one, not only winning but in style too. They have the players who are playing off each other enjoying the momentum going their way.
The Blitzboks are in a good pool which could test their mantle early, to see if they can go all out this weekend with yet another victory to end the series [and set more records doing it].
United States have won in London before, yet they have come so close, and made improvements so far this season. They have the players but lack execution at critical moments to finish games is still the final element to be fulfilled. Team USA need to step up big time, if they are to finish the season on a high. Perry Baker has been good all season, together with Stephen Tomasin and Ben Pikelman. They all need to step up.
Wales and Kenya may feel they have claims to seeking a top eight place on Day Two, but it will take all their efforts. Each are talented sides, very promising and highly entertaining. So if South Africa or the US team slip-up, it will only feed the others hopes.
Pool B – Scotland, France, Argentina, Russia
The Bravehearts showed up a week early last weekend, and went on to the final only to fall short against South Africa. They overcame the big three last weekend: first South Africa in Pool stages. They humbled Fiji in the Cup quarter-finals holding them scoreless, and then set aside England in the semis. An excellent warm-up to defending their title this weekend.
Consistency has always been their weakness, and going consecutive weeks in the top eight will be a challenge. But LWOR believe the Calum McRae coached side have the weapons to succeed; Dougie Fife (see main picture) being one of them.
Argentina won the Challenge Trophy with five new debutants last weekend, and France may not have the big names but they will give their all this final weekend. It will be a big battle between these two sides, to join Scotland in the last eight but don’t count out the Russians. Vladmir Ostronshko will be vital for the Russian Bears, so will Jean Pascal Barraque and Bastian Berenquel for France, along with Gaston Revol for Argentina. Sadly, Los Pumas will be missing their ‘Rookie of the Year’ nominee, the feisty Matias Oscadazuk.
💫 The three nominees for the World Rugby Rookie of the Year 2016-17 💫
🇳🇿 Vilimoni Koroi
🇫🇯 Kalione Nasoko
🇦🇷 Matias Osadczuk pic.twitter.com/dEVOVggOYM
Pool C – New Zealand, Fiji, Canada, Japan
The Kiwis want, and need a win to finish the season on a high. Never finishing a season without claiming a title before, and they will go all out to secure that. DJ Forbes has been immense all season, with his comrade Tim Mikkelson. Boosted with the return of Joe Webber and the ‘Shadowhunter’ Lewis Ormond, the side looks good to challenge all.
Newbie Jamie Booth had a great debut in Paris, so did the ever improving Trael Joas. Their ‘battle with Fiji’ will be one to watch. It always is. Although, the All Black Sevens will be without their find of the season, Vilimoni Koroi. The man who will become the playmaker in his absence will be an interesting selection?
Fiji will be without one of their breakout stars of the season; Mesulame Kunavula, who has been sidelined for six months due to injury. However, they still have ‘Rookie’ nominee Kalione Nasoko and Jasa Veremalua in the forwards. The senior boys need to step-up for this final round, and show their worth as the young boys all look up to them. Samu Bale will be worth the watch at rover, together with the classy Jerry Tuwai and Waisea Nacuqu.
The other leading team Canada will be out to redeem themselves–complete their ascension to the number four place at least. If their mind is in the right place, they can topple the two giants of sevens in this group. On the other hand, Japan needs a miracle to survive relegation. A top eight finish yes, but it’s a tough ask.
For those two teams, Justin Douglas will be the man to watch for Canada, with Siasifo Lisala for Japan.
Pool D – England, Samoa, Australia, Spain
England will be chasing second place, as they wish to finish higher than Fiji. They will be at home and England always thrive at home. Will that be enough motivation? Possibly, all the while the target of San Francisco [Sevens RWC] or the Gold Coast [Comm Games] are also drivers for success.
It will be a three way battle to join England in the quarter-finals, if Samoa keeps their momentum from last weekend. Australia will be a different side with more urgency and determination. Their young squad is dying to do really well, but time is more on their side and staying fit is a result they will benefit from.
Spain are breeding the new players for the future, but as ever are sure to rattle some feathers no doubt.
Can the Blitzboks ‘blitz’ the Opposition Yet Again?
With the current form of many sides, they can, but as we saw in Singapore and Paris ‘expect the unexpected’. Not only will this Battle Royale loom between Fiji and England for second place, but every side wants to finish strongly.
The Lowdown could be: Samoa to tie-up that final qualification place, as Japan looks set to say ‘sayonara’ to the World Series. Of course, predictions are hard to make, but with all to play for at Twickenham, our reporting team will just enjoy the final round and results.
Click here for full schedule ahead of the HSBC London Sevens.
“Main photo credit”