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HSBC Sevens World Series returns to New Zealand

Just 5 days until the third round of the series begins in Hamilton

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Written by Oliver Green
Photo by GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images

On January 26th, the next round of the Sevens World Series will commence at the FMG Stadium Waikato in Hamilton, New Zealand.

It is just the second time the 23,600-capacity stadium has hosted the event, after the venue of the New Zealand round was moved from Wellington in 2018.

After the first two rounds in Dubai and Cape Town, USA top the standings; one point clear of hosts New Zealand and 3 points ahead of Fiji.

England are hanging onto the coattails of the leaders, 8 points adrift of the top.

With 16 teams contesting in 45 matches across just two days, here is a quick preview of each pool.

Pool A

Fiji will be without key men Vatemo Ravouvou and Amenoni Nasilasila after the FRU confirmed they will not be involved in the Hamilton or Sydney legs of the competition, amid off-the-field disciplinary issues. Despite this, Fiji will be looking to replicate their win in Hamilton one year ago, and bolster their position at the top of the standings.

Australia are perhaps the best equipped side to challenge Fiji for top spot in Pool A, with speedster John Porch starring yet again this series. His total of 98 points puts him at the top individual standings, 13 points clear of his nearest challenger.

Argentina, who won the Challenge Trophy in Cape Town with a resounding win over Samoa, may be the dark horses of this particular group. The South American side stunned South Africa in Dubai to reach the quarter-finals, and will be hoping to reach the Cup competition for the second time this series.

Wales make up Pool A, and have included 3 uncapped players in their playing squad, as they look to improve on a disappointing 14h place finish last time out in South Africa.

Pool B

Current series leaders USA will be the team to beat in Pool B, as ‘The Eagles’ look to secure some silverware, following two cup final losses. Head coach Mike Friday told USA Rugby; “We need to stay focused, show humility and work hard on our own game individually and collectively as we lost two finals due to mistakes which were more than avoidable”.

England will meet USA in their final pool match, in a repeat of the Cape Town quarter-final that saw the latter progress in a hard-fought 19-12 victory. Should England progress from Pool B into the Cup competition, they will be guaranteed to face a team lower than them in the current standings. With this in mind, a 4th place finish is well within reach, especially if England want to challenge for the series title this season.

Samoa and Tonga will as usual provide a physical test for the two big boys in Pool B. Samoa have twice reached the Challenge Trophy final, while Tonga return to the world stage for the next three tournaments, replacing Zimbabwe in Hamilton

Pool C

South Africa are undoubtedly the favourites for Pool C, and will be boosted by the return of the experienced Chris Dry. Dry has made over 300 appearances for the sevens side, but has missed over a year of rugby with a knee injury. The ‘Blitzboks’ will hope Dry can help them build on a third-placed finish last round.

A much-improved Scotland side have reached the semi-finals in both of the previous tournaments, and will more than likely be competing with France for the second Cup spot in the pool. France are yet to reach the Cup quarter-finals this year.

However, Kenya head coach Paul Murunga is optimistic his side can make an impact on the tournament, despite their recent troubles. A contractual row between the KRU and senior squad members has meant Murunga has been forced to rely on young, inexperienced players.

“We have already exposed five rookies in the first two legs and hopefully, we shall have more coming in to ensure there is adequate competition for places,” Murunga said.

“In Sevens it is possible to beat any team. It all depends on your level of preparedness,” he said. 

Pool D

Hosts New Zealand have a number of players returning from unavailability, with Tim Mikkelson back in the squad after the birth of his first child, and Joe Ravouvou part of the ‘All Blacks’ setup for the first time since gaining New Zealand citizenship. In front of a home crowd, they will be aiming for nothing less a win, and to overhaul USA at the top of the standings.

Spain will provide New Zealand with a worthy challenge in Pool D, and the home nation will have to keep a close eye on talisman Francisco Hernandez. Hernandez has racked up 63 points so far this campaign; a notable achievement in a largely inconsistent Spanish side.

Japan and Canada make up the pool, who are two sides that still have much to prove on the world stage. The last time these two sides met in Dubai, Canada ran out 27-7 winners in an assured display.

International

World Rugby Cancels Several Tournaments

World Rugby have announced the cancelation of a number of tournaments due to the coronavirus outbreak

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(Photo by Action Foto Sport/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

World Rugby have confirmed that several tournaments have been pushed back or cancelled due to the outbreak of coronavirus across the world.

Among the changes are Sevens tournaments, U20 World Cup campaigns and qualifying events for certain competitions. 

The worldwide rugby body released a statement earlier today outlining their plans for the foreseeable future. 

“After detailed and constructive dialogue with the respective host and participating unions, and with the wellbeing of the global rugby family at heart, the following events have been postponed:

  • The men’s HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series tournaments in London and Paris will be postponed, provisionally until September;
  • The women’s HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series tournament in Langford has been postponed until later in the year;
  • The final men’s HSBC World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series event has been postponed until later in the year;
  • Some Rugby World Cup 2021 and 2023 regional qualifying events have been postponed;

In addition, the following event has been cancelled: The World Rugby U20 Championship 2020, scheduled to be hosted in northern Italy in late June and July, has been cancelled following detailed consultation with the Federazione Italiana Rugby. The Olympic Games Repechage qualification tournament scheduled for June is under review and World Rugby continues to be in close consultation with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) regarding the implications for the qualification process in the event that the repechage is unable to be hosted due to the covid-19 outbreak. The World Rugby Hall of Fame, located in Rugby, will be closed until the end of May in line with public health authority directives,” the statement read. 

The pandemic is causing havoc among the rugby community with both the Irish and English Rugby Football Unions calling a close on their domestic competitions for this season bar the PRO14 and English Premiership, which remain under review. 

Elsewhere, the Six Nations was unable to be concluded in its normal time frame due to the postponement of fixtures, with further disruption expected among the international game. 

In other league news the French Top 14 has been suspended and Super Rugby has done the same, however, the Australian sides are set to play against one another over the coming weeks.  

The dates resumption of the current campaigns remain unknown with the pandemic stopping everything in and out of sport.

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Sevens

Ulster star added to Ireland 7s World Series squad.

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Photo By Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile via Getty Images

Anthony Eddy today announced his 13-player Ireland Men’s Sevens squad for the next HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series double-header in Los Angeles and Vancouver.

Ulster Academy scrum-half Graham Curtis has been included in the travelling squad for the first time, having featured for the Ireland Development side in Dubai in late 2019.

Otherwise, Eddy has been able to maintain consistency in his selection as Ireland bid to build on their seventh-place finish at the Sydney Sevens when the 2019/20 Men’s World Series resumes with back-to-back tournaments in America and Canada.

Ireland, once again captained by Billy Dardis, will depart Dublin today ahead of this weekend’s LA Sevens, which takes place at the Dignity Health Sports Park, the home of MLS side LA Galaxy.

While Foster Horan, named Intersport Elverys Players’ Player of the Tournament from Hamilton, is unavailable through injury, there is an experienced core to the Ireland squad, with the likes of Harry McNulty, Jordan Conroy, Terry Kennedy, Adam Leavy, Bryan Mollen, Greg O’Shea and Mark Roche all included.

Curtis, a former Ireland Under-19 international, joins Leinster Academy players Aaron O’Sullivan and Liam Turner in the 13, while Skerries RFC man Hugo Lennox and Jack Kelly complete the panel.

Drawn in Pool B, Eddy’s side will open their LA Sevens campaign against Canada on Saturday (kick-off 11.13am local time/7.13pm Irish time), before further pool clashes with Kenya (2.31pm local time/10.31pm Irish time) and the Blitzboks (7.05pm local time/3.05am Irish time) that day.

The knockout games and play-off matches will take place on Sunday and as the LA Sevens is a standalone Men’s event, the competition reverts back to the standard quarter-final format with the top two from each Pool advancing through.

After four legs of their debut season as a World Series core team, Ireland currently sit ninth on the overall standings and Eddy hopes his side can build further momentum over the next two tournaments in LA and then Vancouver.

“The group has prepared well for the LA and Vancouver legs and I think they are excited to get back to the old format of competition where they will play three games during the day,” he said.

“The turnaround from Sydney has been short but they are well rested and keen to show improvement from the last leg.”

You can follow all the build-up to the LA Sevens on IrishRugby.ie and on IRFU social media channels throughout the week, while the action will be live on Sky Sports and on the RTÉ Player to viewers in the Republic of Ireland.

Ireland Men’s Squad (Los Angeles 7s – Saturday, February 29-Sunday, March 1, Vancouver 7s — Saturday, March 7-Sunday March 8):

Aaron O’Sullivan (Blackrock College/Leinster)
Adam Leavy (Lansdowne)
Billy Dardis (Terenure College)(captain)
Bryan Mollen (Blackrock College)
Graham Curtis (Malone/Ulster)*
Greg O’Shea (Shannon)
Harry McNulty (UCD)
Hugo Lennox (Skerries)
Jack Kelly (Dublin University)
Jordan Conroy (Buccaneers)
Liam Turner (Dublin University/Leinster)
Mark Roche (Lansdowne)
Terry Kennedy (St. Mary’s College).

*Denotes uncapped player

Los Angeles Sevens Ireland Men’s Match Schedule:

Pool B:
Saturday, February 29

Ireland v Canada, Dignity Health Sports Park, 11.13am local time/7.13pm Irish time
Ireland v Kenya, Dignity Health Sports Park, 2.31pm local time/10.31pm Irish time
Ireland v South Africa, Dignity Health Sports Park, 7.05pm local time/3.05am Irish time
Sunday, March 1

Play-Offs/Finals.

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Sevens

‘Quadzilla’ Set for Sevens Debut

Former sprinter Trae Williams is set to make his debut for the Australian Sevens side this weekend

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(Photo credit SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Former sprinter Trae Williams is set to make his debut for the Australian Sevens team this weekend in Dubai.

Nicknamed ‘Quadzilla’. Williams has a personal best of 10.10 seconds over 100 metres and his arrival to the sport caused waves across social media as he is potentially set to become the fastest rugby player ever. 

However, despite there being a huge amount of excitement around his debut, Australian head coach Tim Walsh has admitted he isn’t expecting much from the 22-year-old during the opening round of the world series, as Williams only switched to the sport seven-months ago.

 “I’m not expecting much from him over the weekend at all. I really want him to enjoy himself and to get a feel for it and the players around him will hopefully allow him, or create space for him, to use his weapon – speed. It’s a huge occasion and despite his background and the work he’s done, it’s still a massive step so there’s absolutely no pressure on him,” he said while speaking to AAP. 

Walsh’s main tip to the youngster was to just simply “run fast” as he gets to grips with the sport. 

Having made the switch, Williams ignited the debate as to whether he would be faster than the current fastest player on the planet Carlin Isles, with Isles insisting that he would still be the top-speedster in the game. 

Following the Aussies first two pool games against Scotland and Fiji they take on the US and fans will be hoping that both Williams and Isles are on the pitch at the same time as they come face to face for the first time. 

It will be a challenging weekend for Williams as he adapts to the game, but fans will be hoping he can build-up his game ahead of he Olympics next year with Australia holding high expectations for the tournament in Tokyo.

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