2018 HSBC Dubai Sevens: South Africa chasing ‘triple crown’

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2018 HSBC Dubai Sevens: South Africa chasing 'triple crown'
DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 28: Men's team captains pose for photos with the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series Trophy during the Emirates Dubai Rugby Sevens: HSBC Sevens World Series photocall on November 28, 2018 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Francois Nel/Getty Images)

The 2018 HSBC Dubai Sevens will kickoff this weekend at the iconic 7even Stadium in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. It will also start the new 2018/19 HSBC Men’s World Rugby Sevens Series, with South Africa as the defending champions.

The Blitzboks have won back-to-back Championships in the past two seasons and will be out chasing their ‘triple crown’ in the desert Oasis.

New Zealand look the team that will provide the stiffest competition this year for the usual front-runners Fiji. Knowing this, England, United States and Australia will be outside favorites. Then we find, France, Kenya, Scotland, and Canada, who will be underdogs as usual – although each can ‘flick the switch’ and make a claim for the Cup, at any time.

Of note for followers of rugby sevens, it is the 20th anniversary of the Dubai Sevens, when Fiji and New Zealand played in the very first final. The tournament will be looking to continue it’s extravagant history, with more new talents emerging at every tournament and television broadcasts’ reaching new shores and new homes across the rugby world.

Since it is the 20th anniversary of the #Dubai7s we’re re-living the first ever final from 1999, as @AllBlacks7s face @fijirugby

2018 HSBC Dubai Sevens: South Africa chasing triple crown

South Africa like Fiji will be rebuilding after losing most of their prominent established stars over the season break/to XVs, and for other reasons. However, those coming in for the Blitzboks have been around for some time. They will relish this opportunity like a certain Kyle Brown.

Kyle Brown on @Dubai7s said, “Dubai is a wonderful setting to play rugby. The weather is great, the crowds are great and we have good support here. This is a special place on the circuit no doubt.” Brown has performed impeccably at this venue, where he earned three gold winners medals, in nine tournaments.

2018 HSBC Dubai Sevens: The Lowdown

Pool A – South Africa, Argentina, Samoa, Zimbabwe

The Blitzbok have been drawn against some old rivals. Argentina will need to find players who will stick to the team for the whole season leading up to the Olympics. The constant in-between switch from Sevens to Super Rugby and XVs duties have hindered their real progress.

Samoa was outstanding against the star-studded Australian team at the Oceania Sevens. They took the Fijians to the wire too, and they look promising to ring some surprises this weekend.

On the other hand, Zimbabwe will be out to fight for recognition. Uganda has had their chance, now time it’s time for the Cheetahs to come out from behind the shadows of Kenya and South Africa.

Pool B – Fiji, France, Scotland, Kenya

Fiji will be favorites in this pool although with four debutants, their rivals will see some chances in overcoming them, than in years past.

With Olympic qualifications at stake, the Fijians will have to make the best start at the Dubai Sevens. Kalione Nasoko will lead the side with Jerry Tuwai standing down to concentrate on his game. Last year, Eroni Sau and Alsio Naduva were unearthed, the union spoiled by talent [naturally]. No doubts over 2018/19, they will unearth a new star or two.

Head coach Gareth Baber in a press release from Fiji Rugby said, “We’ve got a squad with a general mix and balance of experience alongside talented individuals who will be making their first appearances in the HSBC series” he said.

“We know securing points early in the season is important and Dubai comes as the first leg where we want to establish ourselves”

France, Scotland and Kenya are all underdogs. They will give their all of course, and only the strongest will make it out of the pool. Each has old and new players in their squads which will make it interesting, as to how France adapt, and how Scotland play without some XVs specialists.

Kenya mind you, they could be the ‘tiger in the brush’ just waiting to perform at the Dubai Sevens, or next week in Cape Town.

The Fijians started their season badly last year and it cost them the title. While that may have been true in 2018 – including poor results at the Commonwealth Games and Rugby World Cup Sevens – their Pool opponents struggled with consistency and determination to fight above their weight. So Fiji should emerge from Pool B, ready to strike in the quarterfinals.

Pool C – New Zealand, USA, Wales, Spain

Northland winger Scott Gregory will be making his All Blacks 7s debut in Dubai. He will join the squad who has only one mission – to qualify for the Olympics, and start the season with a Bang!.

The Kiwis defied the odds to win both the Commonwealth Games gold medal and Rugby World Cup Sevens titles. They can win in Dubai with the right mindset.

“We can’t stress enough how tough the series is going to be with Olympic Qualification on the line. Every tournament is important which means every time you step on the field you have to be ready,” Clark Laidlaw, NZ Sevens coach said, in an NZ Rugby press release.

Perry Baker will be vital for the United States but the forwards will need to give him the ball to use. Consistency will be needed from the whole team to succeed, yet they are one team with a successful recent history over New Zealand.

Even a World Rugby ‘Sevens Player of the Year’ needs support. If the US Eagles can start well, a berth in the knockout stages could see them fly high in the desert.

Wales and Spain have to perform from the start and – to claim victories – to be more adventurous. The same might be said of Pool favourites New Zealand. Yet they can’t be focusing on certain teams and forget about the rest. With the right motivation though, the All Blacks 7s can be very competitive which, if fans are truthful, is the most anyone can expect of them this season.

 Pool D – Australia, England, Canada, Japan

Jessie Parahi could be the vital missing ingredient for Australia to succeed this weekend. Utilize him properly and; an important consideration for all teams playing in these conditions, rest him sufficiently, and it will bring out the best in the seasoned warhorse.

Beside Parahi, Maurice Longbottom will likely add more dimension for the Aussies, for their enthusiastic rookies to exploit.

England have always thrived in Dubai, with their huge support base, they are multiple Dubai title holders. It’s vital for them to be working on how to use, defend and turn possession into points in 2018/19 if they are to have any success. Continue their good form from the RWC7s tournament, and others will sit up and take notice.

Their interchange bench, and squad rotation will also play a big role in their progress. England are promising to be the team for others to be really worried about….if they get it right.

Canada and Japan are the two sides who on their day, can spring surprises. If consistent and determined, both can not only be very competitive in Dubai but, the whole Sevens Series too.

View all the latest squads, and World Rugby previews here.

Dubai Sevens – what is our Verdict?

With the all-important Olympic qualification places at stake, this season will be one to watch. New stars will emerge, an underdog nation might tip the scales, which will make this year’s tournament and, the entire HSBC Sevens Series worth the watch.

The usual big boys will up there (no doubt) but when the dust settles, whoever breaks through at the Dubai Sevens, will earn the admiration of fans who have enjoyed this tourney for over 20 years now.

The sunshine and atmosphere does something to teams. It can bring out the best, provided that teams pay full attention. Stay off the room service but enjoy the hospitality at the 7evens Stadium, as the men’s and the women’s competition takes hold of every fan’s attention!

Stay tuned for updates on the #Dubai7s on our Last Word on Rugby rugby sevens Facebook page, from both the Women’s and Men’s competition.

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