What a wild weekend of rugby 7s. The series always starts with a bang, it's like we forget just how good 7s rugby can be during the down months and then WHAM it hits us like a steam train and the Gold Coast 7s did exactly that. We had the pumped 'pride of lions' from Kenya put England out of the Cup on Day One. South Africa looking a class apart until they froze in the semi-final. Fiji take a 2nd tournament on the hop both in the Gold Coast and including London last season. New Zealand look off colour but still make another cup-final and France be the lone representation of the northern hemisphere in the Cup Quarter-Finals. This of course barely touches the surface of what took place this weekend but I shall leave the definitive round-up to others.
What a wild weekend of rugby 7s. The series always starts with a bang, it's like we forget just how good 7s rugby can be during the down months and then WHAM it hits us like a steam train and the Gold Coast 7s did exactly that.
We had the pumped 'pride of lions' from Kenya put England out of the Cup on Day One. South Africa looking a class apart until they froze in the semi-final. Fiji take a 2nd tournament on the hop both in the Gold Coast and including London last season. New Zealand look off colour but still make another cup-final and France be the lone representation of the northern hemisphere in the Cup Quarter-Finals.
This of course barely touches the surface of what took place this weekend but I shall leave the definitive round-up to others.
This season I am once again publishing my 'Power Rankings'. It's a concept that our North-American readers will know well in that hacks such as myself rank the teams based on a little more than just the results that have taken place that weekend and in fact the season as a whole. A side who did very well and finished 3rd on a given week might not be ranked in the same spot in the Power Rankings. These are of course basically speculative views on sides with a hint of insider knowledge. You will almost certainly disagree with me (unless I rank your side number one) but that is part of the fun.
Of the 9 Power Rankings I will do this season, I will also add a little 'salt & pepper' by using a theme for each article. This week to get a feel for this I am keeping it simple and using Football/Soccer clubs. The rankings only include the Top 10 of the 'core' 15 sides.
All of the major sides in the series believe they have reinvented the wheel each off-season. They believe that they are fitter, more technical and faster than ever. They often forget 2 things that Fiji will always have over the other nations at this time being that
1. Rugby Sevens is the National Sport in Fiji
2. Fiji has a properly developed domestic 7s set-up that gives high quality experience to all involved
This means that Fiji can have 7 players come into the side and still win a World Series tournament. It won't always work as easily as that and the other sides will wake up to things but there is no side in the World that could face what the Islanders faced at win a tournament. Period
If they were a football club or player - Brazil (They won't always win Championships but they will always produce magnificently skillful players)
2. South Africa
South Africa scored the most tries over the weekend and blew New Zealand away. How then are they heading back home without the trophy. There have not been many occassions that those two boxes have been ticked and sides have not come away with the trophy. Paul Treu looks to have the deepest squad and his huge budget appears to be playing dividends. I am not going to make further judgement on them until after their own home tournament as I understand that sides sometimes just have games where things don't work, perhaps the semi-final against Fiji was just that game. We will see in Dubai but I want to see the world class South Africa turn up at the business end of the tournament and not just on Day One
If they were a football club or player - Wayne Rooney (great for United.....but for England at a tournament?)
3. New Zealand
The All Black 7s were particularly average this weekend. They got found out massively in both the games they played opposition from the top echelons of the world series (South Africa and Fiji) and their scalps this weekend were really only Argentina by a score and a very tired Kenyan side.
'I hear you shout 'why are they number 3 then!!!'
They are ranked so high because they still found a way to make it to the final and I think Tietjens would of taken that this time last week. Half of his squad were new comers and unlike in Fiji 7s is not the national sport, His mainstays were still in 15s mode with Mikkelson and Forbes both playing last weekend in the ITM Cup. It's almost like All Blacks Sevens havent started their season together yet, it's too early. So basically the Kiwis in comparison to the other sides, rocked up under prepared with a load of newbies and still made the final. That's class from Gords.
If they were a football club or player - Manchester United (Only because Gords is Ferguson)
Not alot was expected from Samoa going into the first tournament, they were one of the sides that were meant to be in transition with huge household names such as Uale Mai not involved this season. In fact the mention of 5 new players didn't do the inexperience justice with only 2 players having played in more than 13 tournaments. Samoa were efficient though, they tired and looked disjointed on Day Two but they did what they would set out as the bare minimum and that is qualify for the Cup and though perhaps England beat themselves in their group encounter they did what was required and marched on
If they were a football club or player - Wayne Rooney (great for United.....but for England at a tournament?)
I spoke about Kenya last week and that the job of new coach Mike Friday is not going to be an easy one. They did very well this weekend, they came with a good game plan adapted for the best of their abilities and were will to change things. They were not so well prepared from a fitness point of view but I think that could be put down to less time together and preparation at a world class level than the other top sides. They looked really tired come the end of the semi-final and somewhat outclassed by the Boks in the placing game.
I still think it's going to be a tough season for Kenya but they will cause a number of upsets and no one will want them in their group. It will be interesting to see if Friday can give them some really subtlety. I smiled at a tweet saying he was the 'best tactician in the business' if that is the case with the athletes he has at his disposal he should be able to turn them into Cup winners at some point. I'm just not sure it's as simple as that but it's going to be fun watching and I wish them alot of luck as they are a side I have always had a lot of love for. No need for chat about comparable budgets etc, Kenya can be world class, go do it.
If they were a football club or player - Everton (Nothing flash but will punish mistakes)
I have always been a big fan of Argentinian rugby (except for cancelling their World Series leg) and I was once again reminded of why last weekend on the Gold Coast of Australia. The Pumas are real-life examples of what Canada & Spain specifically should aim to become. A dogged tough side to beat that feeds off others mistakes and make very little of their own. The Pumas still use the 7s series as a development tool and a good one at that. A number of the have experience in the World Junior Championships and will go on to other things. With 4 new boys and 4 boys with experience, they have a lovely balance. They do what they do and will be in the top 10 all year i'm sure...
If they were a football club or player - SL Benfica (always there and always hard to beat)
The mercurial French! They played brilliantly to make the final last year in Dubai and then reverted to type. Let's see what we get as the season moves on BUT if they don't perform questions have got to be made to the management as it is rumored that players are on 7000 Euros a month and full-time in Paris. That makes them the top funded side in the world, so in a world of french rugby money they have to start bringing some results to match that. Let's be honest, they scraped into the Cup last weekend but took advantage of it on Day Two....do I expect consistency rolling on to Dubai....NO CHANCE
If they were a football club or player - Faustino Asprilla in his Newcastle days. (Got loads of money and loads of flair but won't do it every week)
Australia looked like they were going to be the team to beat after Day One when they defeated Fiji in the last game of the day. Jenkins was leading his men brilliantly and they furstrated fiji with an incredibly aggressive defense that kept coming at the Islanders so much so that there was very little space for them to move. As soon as you are on your heels against Fiji they take advantage and the Ozzies never were. The Day Two arrived, with the expectations of the home crowd and Luke Morahan out of action, the men in Gold struggled to find their fluency. They are a good side and O'Connor is a top, top coach but they are going to need to find a little more creation, they don't have out and out speed and without the creation of space to let their version of quick men go they are going to be found wanting on Day Two
If they were a football club or player - Fulham FC (when it's good it's so good but when it's not so good, well......)
How frustrating are the boys in Blue/Pink? Ball in hand and playing with confidence they are World Class. One of their scores against Samoa literally took my breath away in the way they moved the Samoan defense around. When they don't have the ball they looked like a bunch of public school boys playing full contact bulldog for the first time with the older boys.
The defense is designed well, this is not Ben Ryans fault. The defensive structure looked intelligent but when the opposition just stuck it to them physically the english players play 'touchy feely' instead of tackling. Rodwell is supposed to be one of England enforcers and when Cracknell went down he needed to step up even more but he missed tackles from just going to high. If Dan Norton is to be considered a world class winger then he needs to be so on both sides of the ball. Raikabula bullied him last year and it was the same this weekend. If the England players don't take personal responsibility for making their individual tackles and taking people to ground then it will a lottery each tournament on their success. Defense wins championships.
If they were a football team or player : David Ginola : Cared more about his hair than making a tackle much to the joy of George Graham
What you see is what you get with Spain. They run hard, pretty well disciplined and stay in their defensive structure pretty well. They are always going to be a tough out on Day One for the higher seeds in the group but I am slightly worried that they could well be worked out by the top coaches. They are part-time so cannot be expected so they are working within parameters but the 7s they play is very basic (and they play it very well) they have tendency to lose their depth after 3 to 4 phases. So defenses can just stay soft, and not get too sucked into the hard-line, pocket rugby 7s that they play knowing that opportunities for turn-overs will come when Spain stutter due to not really having a plan B. They need to continue to evolve to stay with the top boys as the season get's going otherwise might become another USA.
If they were a football club or player - Wolverhampton Wanderers....probably a little harsh as I do like them as a side.
The others looking in from the outside
(11. Wales, 12. Canada, 13.USA, 14. Scotland, 15. Portugal)
That was fun! More to come from me in the lead up to Dubai 7s. Now rip me apart for getting it all wrong and I will see you at the 7s!!