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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.

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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Sevens

Final Team Announced for RugbyX Competition

The final team to compete in the first ever RugbyX tournament has been confirmed and it will make things even more interesting

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(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

The Barbarians have been confirmed as the final team to compete at this year’s first ever RugbyX event in the O2 in London on October 29th.

The Baa Baas become the sixth team to be announced for the one-day tournament with international Sevens teams from Argentina, England, Ireland, France and the USA all set to battle it out.

Speaking on the Barbarians inclusion Technical Director of RugbyX Ben Ryan believes that the sport will provide fans with a brilliant new way to support their country.

“RugbyX is bringing world leading international Sevens rugby teams into Europe’s number one entertainment destination – The O2 arena – for an adapted form of the game we love. RugbyX will provide new and existing fans with an opportunity to support their national team in a brand new rugby environment,” he said.

He went on to say that the Baa Baas have all the qualities within their side that the tournament needs and thinks they are in with a huge chance of winning the competition.

“At RugbyX we are looking to instil some key principles with this new format of the game which consist of teamwork, participation and inclusion. These values are the fundamentals of the Barbarians’ existence so to have them participate at RugbyX is just brilliant. Additionally, the wealth of experience and talent that the Barbarians have to select from will make them one of the strongest competitors at The O2 in October,” he added.

Barbarians Chairman John Spencer is delighted that his side now have another platform to perform on.

“Since our foundation in 1890, the Barbarians have been committed to combining the best of attacking rugby with the traditions of enjoyment and sportsmanship for which our club and our sport is famous throughout the world. We are delighted to bring those traditions to this most innovative format of rugby at The O2 arena in London. We have had success in the Sevens game previously, with wins at the Hong Kong Sevens and Middlesex Sevens amongst the Barbarians past honours. We look forward to facing the world’s leading international sevens teams in this new fast-paced, five vs. five format of the game we love,” he said.

The new brand of rugby will use all the same rules as rugby union in terms of foul play and breakdown penalties. However, there will only be 5 players per team with each match lasting only 10 minutes with no half-time.

As well as that there are no line-outs only quick-throws which are taken by a substitute from the team in possession and there are no conversions.

The plan is that this will create a new faster brand of rugby which will become appealing to fans across the world.

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Sevens

Can Isles Be Stopped?!

We all know how good Carlin Isles is and he proved it this season but does he finally have competition?

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(Photo by Suhaimi Abdullah/Getty Images for Singapore Sports Hub)

Carlin Isles secured the Sevens Series top try-scorer accolade with 52 tries in the series but there could be a challenger for him next season.

After Australia signed sprinter Trae Williams for next season people wondered if he would overtake Isles as the fastest rugby player on the planet, however, Isles believes he is still faster, but could Williams potentially score more tries than the American?

Since Isle’s move from track to the pitch he has been almost unstoppable with ball in hand as he runs rings around the opposition but new-kid on the block Williams will make the switch with a background in rugby already under his belt.

Isles has already shown a reluctance to give up his crown of being the fastest player around but he may have another title to worry about now. Isles and the US finished second in this series and will hope to continue their impressive form in the sport and claim a series win soon.

Whatever happens it will be some clash to see the two speedsters compete for everything next time around.

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