Every week on UR7s.com, resident chief bloggumnist Jon Bolter will be bringing you his 'Core Team Power Rankings'. Ranking the core sides as he sees it, these won't always match the World Series league table, it will take into account less tangible aspects of the sport we love, including form, injuries, momentum and anything else JB fancies putting in their in any said week. As ever Bolter will not hold back, so buckle up and enjoy the ride as JB takes a look at the core teams after Round 2 of the HSBC World Sevens Series 11/12
Every week on UR7s.com, resident chief bloggumnist Jon Bolter will be bringing you his 'Core Team Power Rankings'. Ranking the core sides as he sees it, these won't always match the World Series league table, it will take into account less tangible aspects of the sport we love, including form, injuries, momentum and anything else JB fancies putting in their in any said week.
As ever Bolter will not hold back, so buckle up and enjoy the ride as JB takes a look at the core teams after Round 2 of the HSBC World Sevens Series 11/12
Fiji are a different animal this year under new coach Alifereti Dere, they are playing a brand of 7s rugby that we don't ussually associate with the famous Fijians. They have blended the physical man up rugby we have associated with Fiji over the past few years with a little more subtlety. In fact they look to of learned from their rivals which is a huge step forward for a side that traditionally believes themselves to know all required in regards to the game of 7s. Joeli Lutumailagi has been scoring freely as Dere has given the side license to move the ball away from the contact point. I have not done the research but I would bet if I did that Fiji are taking 30% less contact in the middle of the park than last year and with that have become a much more difficult side to prepare for.
Stock : Buy now and enjoy the ride
Ben Ryan says 'England have a lot more in the tank'. I really hope so. He gave an honest appraisal of his England side after their victory in Dubai at the weekend when he said 'I'm still not satisfied with the way we are playing but we played some clever football' If I was Ryan my thoughts would be the same, England frustrated on Day One as Barden, Rodwell and Cracknell produced good turnover ball whilst too many players were out of position for it to click behind the scrum. Turner was playing his first tournament at Scrum-Half, Watson moved in from the wing, Damu was finding his feet in the midfield, whilst Christian Lewis-Pratt made a stuttering debut (as to be expected coming back from injury)
Taking all of this into account, Ryan had England play in a specific way on Day 2 acknowledging the challenges he was facing by the positional experience of his side. Turner was superb, finding himself in positions both on the wide flanks where he has traditionally been dangerous and also where he struggled on Day 1; round the base of the breakdown. Damu looked like he was getting somewhere towards his best in a superb display on Day two, I think he is going to be a real asset of experience and power in the midfield that England lacked last year, he needs to stay fit though.
Considering the travails England faced, the outcome is an incredible success and one English rugby needed, they played clever rugby and took advantage of some results going their way. They will need to improve and become more fluent in their own style of play if they are to continue their succes this weekend in SA
Stock : Cautiously rising
The Aussies are the first of 2 teams who sit in 3rd place in the power rankings. Australia have started the season considerably better than I thought they were going too. I really expected it to be something like the beginning of last season where the number of players leaving the squad really hurt O'Connor has he started a new season.
Australia struggled at the Oceania Sevens with youngster and then did not pick up a win at either Paradise 7s or Noosa International 7s losing out to local sides at both tournaments. Rather than damage preparations though, it appears to of taught the side a number of lessons. Hamish Angus is superb and the inside running of Ed Jenkins is not to be ignored as he would get in many of the sides in the world. I have been really pleased with the youngsters though, they have shown no fear of the other international sides. Big schoolboy winger Lindsay Cook could well be the find of this year if Australia find a way to use him correctly
Victory over South Africa in the plate final at the weekend will be vindicating for O'Connor but the real challenge for youngsters will be this weekend. Regular World Series campaigners do not know what to expect from 3 weeks on the trott, but I am sure they have some fear. The youngsters will hold no fear but it will be incredibly difficult physically for these players...the jury is out for me on whether they have peaked over the past 2 weeks and will drop now like England did last season
Stock : Rankings and Series position give punters false confidence
How bizarre it is to be discussing France in this tongue in reference to 7s but how I am pleased that we are. In a feature that I did before the World Series last season, I mentioned that I thought France would become a force in the World Series that season. I was a year early it would seem in my foresight.
It has taken some time for the squad to acclimatise with one another and for the side to find an identity in the way that they play. In Terry Brouhaoua, Paul Albaladejo and Renaud Delmas they have 3 backs that unlock any defense.
Brouhaoua looks like a flying frenchman of the 1980s, he looks out of place on the uber-stylish World Sevens Series but his rugby playing ability is 2nd to none, Mat Turner got the plaudits this weekend but his french counterpart more than matched him this weekend. Albaladejo is not the quickest but he is deceptive and has the abilty to find the rapid Delmas at the right time.
I expect to drop France down the rankings next weekend though as they surprised some people this weekend and after watching back the rugby from Dubai, it struck me that they do not have the power upfront to compete on a weekly basis at the moment. England showed that in 2nd half of the pool game and the final, without engine room doing the work, you will always be behind the 8 ball
Stock : As high as it's ever been but on a slippery slope
5. South Africa
I posed the question in my preview article for the Dubai 7s on whether Branco Du Preez could adequately replace World player of the Year Cecil Afrika, and that how he answered this question would have alot to do with how South Africa would fare.
At times Du Preez was superb. South Africa completely dominated New Zealand upfront in the pool stages and Du Preez took advantage of this setting Small-Smith and Day on their way to a first victory of New Zealand in 3 years. As is often the case with newcomers to the series, Du Preez could not replicate this form on Day 2 and Paul Treu will surely be dissapointed with a famous victory resulting in a plate defeat the next day.
I was so unsure on where to place South Africa in these rankings, do I use the NZ game as a gauge or overall placing. NZ struggled at the weekend but SA will not accept this in regards to their match and quite rightly as the Blitzbokke didn't let the Kiwis in the game. That being said, I cannot turn away from their defeat to France in the quarter-finals so they just behind those in 3rd in the rankings.
Stock : Until Afrika is back the jury is out on whether they will have incredible days on the markets
6. New Zealand
Do I think that the 5 sides above New Zealand could defeat them....in short, No. So theoretically NZ should be placed above 6th position. I just can't bring myself to do it though, New Zealand have looked fantastic when they havent needed to but when it comes to the big games this season, they seem of not turned up.
Fiji were irrepressible against the Kiwis in the final of Gold Coast but the New Zealand of last side would of taken the game back to them, likewise I can't remember when a side applied themselves on New Zealand in the way South Africa did on Day 1 in the desert. It seems that a formula for beating New Zealand this season, comes from physical application. England have used this to their advantage in victories over the past 2/3 years and the other sides are now doing the same.
Tietjens will not be happy (is he ever) and he will be at the whiteboard, working out where the Kiwis have gone wrong recently, luckily the players he has at his disposal make it considerably easier for him. Tomasi Cama leads the series in points scored and has looked like he has hours on the ball, the responsibility at the moment falls on DJ Forbes, not for the first time the world is asking some questions (Kyle Brown and co specifically) and he needs to find some answers.
Stock : For the first time in many years, I would hold on buying NZ stock...it could be about to take a big fall
Paul John must have a huge smile on his face with regards to how the youngsters have started the season. The campaigners such as Pugh, Evans and Shellard have not had to take all the responsibility as the Williams' have taken to the series with relative comfort.
As I mentioned in my preview document, my faith in Wales to play the 'big-game' has never diminished, to play 6 'big-games' in a weekend and possibly do it on consecutive weekends is a stretch and it proved to be so in Dubai. Wales were fantastic against Australia in the pool stages, they moved the ball with real pace and intensity and Australia didn't know how to react. In the battle of the youngster the 'Reds' certainly came out on top.
Following that win, they went into the quarter-final with Argentina as favorites and with their best chance of a cup run in a long-time. They were then knocked from their stride by a battling Argentina team that did not show anything different from the day before, they fought for every ball, slowed Wales' ball down and took their chances. Nothing special but they did enough and Wales were in the plate.
England showed that you have to know how to win those scrappy games, and Wales at the moment just don't look ready to do so and are playing to their ranking...weekly plate contenders.
Stock : A mid-term investment that can be bought cheap now but could peak and make you millions
The Pumas shocked everybody at the weekend especially Samoa. Their huge record beating victory over the UAE was the beneficiary of playing UAE at the end of day where they had already played Samoa and Fiji, they were tired and the Pumas did what they needed to do.
The draw with Samoa will actually be a source of frustration for coach Lobbe, they should of beaten Samoa. OK it was mistakes from the islanders that put Argentina in a position to win the game but they did not close it out, and in fact had to come back into the game at the end of the day.
They learnt from this game though, and you could tell they were not going to be beaten by the Welsh in the quater-finals.
I was worried by Argentina at the beginning of Day 1 when they took a beating from Fiji, but sometimes those games happen in 7s and I am now more of the opinion that though they might not challenge consistently, they have the ability to capitalise on others mistake and will always be dangerous with their dogged attitude.
Stock : Welcome back to the Cup table
When Samoa won the Oceania and Safari Sevens we were ready to annoint them favorites for the World Series as they welcomed back Uale Mai and Lolo Lui to the fold, missing these 2 was the source of all their problems last year or so we were told.
In fact, Samoa are not the same side and coach Stephen Betham is facing some serious challenges in front of him. I am going to compare the side that won the World Series in 09/10 against the won that won the shield tournament at the weekend (the shield!!)
In 09/10 Mai and Lui were at the peak of their powers. No one will forget their epic semi-final victory against England at Murrayfield going well over 20 mins long in extra-time, Mai nipped out for a quick cigarette and then came back in with his squad and smashed the Australians in the final. Mai could do anything that season, he pulled the strings for both his backs (Passamino) and forwards (Lui, Ofisa Treviranus and Alafoti Fa'osiliva) to play off him.
In 11/12 Mai and Lui are not the same players. Mai looks frustrated by himself and team mates around him, not helped that he appears to be half a yard slower than he was. His sending-off against for striking seems to confirm his frustrations. With Mai struggling Lui finds it difficult to apply himself on the game when Samoa have the ball, and is often under used. The biggest change though is the loss of Ofisa Treviranus and Alafoti Fa'osiliva who have both gone on to pastures new in 15s game in Europe. Samoa miss that authority that these 2 bought to the engine room and with it their stranglehold on games.
The successes and failings of teams in 7s is more about the overall make up of a side than it is individuals within the side and Samoa are just not as balanced this year and hurt more by the loss the big men than they were by the loss of then World Player of the Year Mikale Pessamino last season.
Stock : Sell it whilst you can, it's going to get worse before getting better
When Andrew Turnbull got his 100th try on the series through a chip 'n' chase hat-trick moment, I gave my loudest cheer of the day. I was so pleased for him, he is the only World Class player in the Scotland squad, he would get in 95% of the squads in the series, and has been a wonderful servant for the game of 7s in Scotland.
He can attack the centre channel on his own a little too often but the pace he puts on too the ball is second to none and he is a talisman for this Scotland side.
Graham Shiel is facing some challenges though; Scotland are difficult to beat and difficult to lose too at the moment, I don't want to use the word 'gritty' as I have oft in years gone by as they have evolved from that, but it seems that they go out to make like difficult for others and attempt to counter rather than take the game to the opposition and I just don't see there being a long-term success in this game plan.
Scotland have the potential to make a cup run, unfortunately it will be because others are having tough weekends
Stock : Where it always has been, a sleeper investment
Outside the Top 10
11. USA - The Eagles need to improve, at the moment they are flattering to deceive, losing to NZ and SA is acceptable but not by such scorelines, losing to Portugal will hurt. To put it in perspective, if Canada, Spain, Russia and Portugal were 'core' sides I would be ranking them above the USA.
12. Kenya - Comfortably the worst 'core' side at the moment, they have not been able to replace Kayange or Injera which is an indictment on their preparation for the World Series as they are presently not sure of their identity on the 7s field. Until they have worked out what they are themselves, they will continue to battle it out for the shield and have no chance of the bowl let alone a Cup run.
Got a question for Bolter? Comment on this article or any of JB's articles and he will answer them in his 'Bolting with Bolter' piece next week.....