2018 HSBC Dubai Sevens: Black Ferns look to extend Sevens Series lead

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2018 HSBC Dubai Sevens: Black Ferns look to extend Sevens Series lead
DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 30: A general view as the Red Arrows fly past at The Sevens stadium during the Dubai Sevens, as part of the second round of the HSBC Sevens World Series on November 30, 2013 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Francois Nel/Getty Images)

The New Zealand Black Ferns Sevens team will be looking to extend their lead in the 2018/19 HSBC Women’s Sevens Series this weekend, at the HSBC Dubai Sevens. They have been on a great run lately – going all the way back to the Commonwealth Games and Rugby World Cup Sevens – where they swept both titles.

In Dubai, the women open the weekend at The Sevens Stadium, before the Men’s HSBC Sevens Series starts the year proper. This year, with the continued growth of the women’s game, plus the cultural changes in the middle east, the women’s matches should be just as popular (and contested) as the men’s tournament.

The women travel to the second leg of their season, having made the most of their opportunities at the HSBC Women’s US Sevens tournament. A good win, as all women’s teams took their first steps on the six tournament season – and ahead to the 2020 Olympic Games.

As New Zealand prepared, disaster struck – prolific try-scorer Portia Woodman will now miss this campaign, recovering from Achilles heel surgery. Niall Williams is also out, due to injury, as the squad pushed themselves hard, to reclaim their Women’s Sevens Series title. Even considering those injuries, the Sevens Sisters still have the likes of the newly crowned World Rugby Sevens Player of the Year, Michaela Blyde.

Black Ferns look to extend Sevens Series lead

With a fixed goal, the Black Ferns Sevens will be the ones to defeat. Still, Australia – together with the North American giants the United States and Canada – will be looking to repel and try to end the Kiwi winning streak.

With the heightened awareness that qualifying for the knockout stages offers the best return (in terms of points) and leads to more competition, teams like France, England and Fiji realize that good results in their pool, can help them reach their goals.

11 core teams will contest the entire season, with a guest team for every leg. Kenya will join the core sides this weekend. It will be a boost for the nation, with their men’s side an established side who can match any team on their day.

New Zealand leads Pool A with Ireland, Russia and Kenya. Glendale Sevens finalists United States leads Pool B with Australia, England and China. Canada, France and Fiji will be in the same Pool C [as they did in Glendale] with Spain joining them this time.

The Black Ferns look to extend Sevens Series lead, yet it is not as simple as that. It will take everything that Sarah Goss and her players have, to hold back the strong challenges expected at the HSBC Dubai Sevens.

Pools drawn for HSBC Dubai Sevens

Pool A – New Zealand, Russia, Ireland and Kenya

With Portia Woodman and Niall Williams out with injury, most teams will see this as an opportunity to overcome the Series leaders. However, the core of the team is still there boosted with Gayle Broughton. Will be hard for their Pool opponents to overcome them.

Russia and Ireland will be worth the watch and will be competitive against the Black Ferns. On the other hand, the Lioness from Kenya will value the experience from playing the best in the world.

New Zealand: Shakira Baker, Michaela Blyde, Kelly Brazier, Gayle Broughton, Theresa Fitzpatrick, Sarah Goss (captain), Tyla Nathan-Wong, Risi Pouri-Lane, Alena Saili, Terina Te Tamaki, Ruby Tui, Stacey Waaka, Katarina Whata-Simpkins

Pool B – USA, Australia, England and China

Ilona Maher was outstanding and instrumental in the opening round in Glendale. She will be vital in attack and defense this week with Naya Tapper and their two co-captains. Overcoming Australia again will further boost confidence in the squad.

Australia have brought in two rookies Sariah Paki and Lily Dick to boost squad, with the experienced Alicia Quirk adding much to the squad depth. They will be out for revenge and will be hard to topple in Pool play.

England, with Emily Scarratt back in the fold, along with Amy Wilson-Hardy, need consistency. They have to utilize the skills and speed of Jess Breach and Debbie Flemming, but also reach the same level across all three matches, to have any chance of escaping the Challenge Trophy tier.

on the other hand, China will have to dig deep and be more competitive against their seasoned campaigner’s opponents.

United  States: Joanne Fa’avesi, Abby Gustaitis, Cheta Emba, Ilona Maher, Kristen Thomas, Ashley Byrge, Lauren Doyle (Co-Captain), Alena Olsen, Alev Kelter, Nicole Heavirland (Co-Captain), Naya Tapper, Stephanie Rovetti

Pool C – Canada, France, Fiji and Spain

The Canadians didn’t perform well in the opening round in Glendale, and will be trying to improve from that outing. The French are their nemesis, who have really been improving terrifically over the last 12 months.

Spain and Fijiana have to really got to dig deep, to be competitive. With Olympic qualifications up for grabs over this season, the onus is on them to step up and to learn to handle the pressure moments.

The former Sevens stars in the Fijiana XVs side that won the Oceania Rugby Women’s XVs Championship showed why they should be back in the team. However, it is up to the newly appointed Sevens management group, if they can be recalled.

This will be the pool to watch, if all teams stand up. France may challenge, or could be toppled by Fiji or Spain – the possibilities make it worth watching from Friday onward.

Fiji: Litia Naqato © Asinate Savu, Vilisi Solikiviti, Joma Seru, Naina Baleca, Adivitaloga, Mereula Toroti, Roela Radiniyavuni, Mereani Rokoiono, Ana Maria Naimasi, Paulini Korowaqa, Litiana Lewadrau

LWOR the Verdict – Show respect in Rugby Sevens

It will be an interesting event in Dubai with Olympic qualifications at stake. All teams know that they have to step up their game. Most will be entirely focused on the outcome but, each player has to also realize, it is a game. Playing fair and respecting the opposition should still be a priority, even in the high stakes world of the HSBC Dubai Sevens.

Then, in saying that, New Zealand will be hot favorites – especially looking at their recent winning record – but the Aussies will be out for vengeance. They did win the Sevens Series, but the Kiwis have overshadowed that….Aussie are the current title holders so, they must be respected.

United States have to stay super-consistent if they want to compete against the top two. The US Eagles are the most improved side, so every competitor now has them firmly in their target sights. Pool B will be hard to escape, so qualifying for the semifinals – and avoiding facing New Zealand – could be the road to the Cup final.

In terms of the contenders; France continues to improve, with emphasis on focusing on strength to compete at the breakdown. Russia, England, Ireland, Fiji and Spain have plenty to work on. Experienced players in those squads need to step up, and lead by example.

All the best to every Women’s team at the HSBC Dubai Sevens. May the strongest survive and prosper, and the may the lacking ‘learn their lessons’.

The HSBC Dubai Sevens begins at 12:00pm, Friday November 29, at The Sevens Stadium. Stay tuned to our Facebook page for updates this weekend.

 

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