By UR7s Columnist Jon Bolter All eyes will be on the reemergence of Fiji as a consistent power following their victory on the Gold Coast last weekend but as has been said often over the past few seasons, anything can happen in 7s and considering the teams that have enjoyed recent success in the desert, this could be the most open Dubai Sevens in years. The final was contested by Samoa and England last season with the English coming out on top with scores from Hunt, Norton and Turner proving the difference as England shook off an opening day loss to Portugal (first time in IRB history) to register come from behind victories against Fiji, Australia, New Zealand and in the final against Samoa.
By UR7s Columnist Jon Bolter
All eyes will be on the reemergence of Fiji as a consistent power following their victory on the Gold Coast last weekend but as has been said often over the past few seasons, anything can happen in 7s and considering the teams that have enjoyed recent success in the desert, this could be the most open Dubai Sevens in years.
The final was contested by Samoa and England last season with the English coming out on top with scores from Hunt, Norton and Turner proving the difference as England shook off an opening day loss to Portugal (first time in IRB history) to register come from behind victories against Fiji, Australia, New Zealand and in the final against Samoa.
It's not just England that will feel at home at 7he Sevens but also recent victors Wales who return to the site of their famous 2009 Rugby World Cup Sevens victory whilst New Zealand also tasted success in Dubai in 2009 on the World Series.
Whilst Fiji have shown their form last weekend in Australia and other sides will look forward to taking to the field in Dubai tomorrow morning, further sides such as in-form Samoa, Australia, South Africa, Portugal and Canada will be looking to go deep into the 2nd day of competition on Saturday.
John Bolter takes a brief look at what we can expect from the major charges this weekend, from what we saw last weekend whilst knowing what we can hope to see this week.
England were not themselves last week and for that I am giving them their one mulligan for the season. They struggled a little with injuries on day 1 and let's be honest they were not far away from New Zealand and Samoa on Day 2. Losing to Wales will not be acceptable in the eyes of the squad i'm sure as they have beaten them consistently over the summer and in Spain only last month in a warm-up tournament.
The addition of Simon Hunt gives them some real direction and pace. I am a big fan of Chris Brightwell but one of the positives of Hunt in any squad at any level is his ability to be full of energy both on and off the field and this will be beneficial this weekend.
In my last article I mentioned my excitement to see Christian Lewis-Pratt play for England. England were missing a real playmaker last weekend, someone that could be the general and the CLP is going to need some time to adjust to the level and the speed of the game, I'm sure he has the ability to be that man. My gut feeling is that we will see the start of something this weekend.
England more than any other side will feel like they are at home. Over 100 sides from the UK are in the desert playing in the other levels. I watched Aquamarine play St Edwards Martyrs earlier on and it was a good game in the Open and those boys will be wildly cheering England on over the weekend.
Key Player : England don't win tournaments without Damu but for me, the more Dan Norton is on the park (and scoring tries) the more chance England have of defending their title.
South Africa are missing Cecil Afrika this weekend in hope that he will be fit for their home tournament in PE next weekend. Paul Treu has bought in Branco Du Preez but the IRB World Player of the Year is desperately difficult to replace and i'm not sure they have done so adequately. South Africa have a wonderful blend of power and experience up front which guarantees them quality ball including Frankie Horne, Robert Ebersohn and captain Kyle Brown. Likewise SA have the ability to finish scores outwide with Chris Dry scoring 7 tries last weekend in Oz.
My worry with South Africa at the moment, is that they are a World Class side but their 3rd place finishing last weekend was probably their optimum finishing. Without Afrika I see them ranking somewhere between 3rd-6th but you never know.
Key Player : Though incredibly difficult to replace Afrika, it will fall on the shoulders of Du Preez on how South Africa go without their talisman.
The Kiwis don't like not winning and losing finals is not something that happens very often on the World Series. What was noticeable last weekend, and I am sure it will be the case again this weekend was that of the form of Tomasi Cama. Cama finished top scorer across the weekend in Australia with 48 points but it was his ability to link between forwards and backs that was so apparent once more.
Captain DJ Forbes was as powerful as ever but it was Frank Halai (4 tries) and Lote Raikabula (6 tries) that really bought the Kiwi power game to the table and I expect them to play in a similar vein this weekend. Halai's score against England highlighted their deficiencies in the tackle point as bust tackles to go 80 yards and it was only Fiji that stood up to it all weekend.
If we see a rematch of last weekend against Fiji I expect to see another 'ding-dong' battle between 2 powerful sides with the ability to finish through the middle and on the width.
Key Player : Tomasi Cama, the general who pulls the strings.
Samoa have always been an incredibly powerful side, in fact they rode this power to the overall series win in 2009/10 season. They showed great form in the lead-up to the World Series with victories in Kenya and Oceania Sevens but they seemed to be short of something last weekend.
Coach, Stephen Betham couldn't hide his pleasure of welcome back World Series winner Uale Mai and Lolo Lui who really are his versions of Cama but Betham has been hit by losing 2 players of equal importance but from the engine room. Ofisa Treviranus and Alafoti Fa'osiliva have won themselves contracts in 15s clubs in Europe and will not feature this year and i'm sure in the early stages of the season including this weekend, they will be missed.
New man Paul Perez impressed in the lead-up to the series especially in Kenya and he will need to grow into his role swiftly. He will be helped by the experience of Simaika Mikaele who plays in his 52nd World Series tournament this weekend
Key Player : Uale Mai; Samoa were just not the same power without him last season
Australia fell short against SA in the 3rd place game last weekend but i'm sure considering the beatings they had taken in the lead up to the series from Samoa, Fiji and local sides in warm-up tournament Coach O'Connor will be pleased with a 4th place finish with 8 new faces and look to build on that this weekend.
Hamish Angus and Ed Jenkins will look to make sure the younger lads can bring the same intensity this weekend and Australia have shown that they have the ability to do so but the 2nd tournament (let alone the third) is where we find out most about teams, their depth and experience is absolutely key especially in the heat of Dubai.
I think we will see Australia in the plate this weekend which is nothing to be smirked at considering their exploits of last week at home.
Key Player/coach : Responsibility falls on Coach Micheal O'Connor to get his young charges ready for a 2nd weekend of international rugby
Wales proved once again that on their day, they can beat the top sides and beat them well with a fantastic victory over England in the pool stages last week. They then followed this result up with another good win over Samoa in the plate. Wales' problem has always been stringing those results together, they managed to find 2 days of excellence together in 2009 at the RWC but have not done so since and have not been able to find consecutive weeks of form.
That being said they finished last season strong and have started well this year, so let's see if they have turned a corner with a fresh batch of youngsters sitting alongside experienced heads such as Richie Pugh, Rhy Shellard and Ifan Evans
Key Player : I have been a fan of Alex Walker since seing him play in the National Series, if he is ticking, Wales will tick
Last weeks victors were fantastic. It really had me harping back to the Fiji sides of yesteryear. I must caveat this though as my thoughts were also cut short. We have had some falsedawns before with Fiji and they have failed to follow up some magnificient performances which is the main reason they have not featured in the running for the World Series title in recent years.
Last week saw them mix power and pace beautifully though and what struck me most was the depth in the Fiji squad. When they lost players such as captain Setefano Cakau and Osea Kolinisau in the final against New Zealand they were far more than adequately covered by the bench as players like Emosi Vucago and Watisoni Votu took control and despatched the Kiwis in such a fashion that I had not seen in a few years.
There was an element of arrogance in the way Fiji played as well and it was wonderful to see. This weekend is the test though for new coach Alfriditi Dere and whether he can do what recent men in charge have been unable to do and on this series....that's more than tough
Key Player : Setefano Cakau, the captain was everywhere last weekend
On top of the above, the tournament sees the debut of the UAE following the dispanding of the Arabian Gulf, a resurgent Canada following a Gold Medal at the PAN-AM Games, the USA will be bouyed by the news that the players are playing for one of the fifthteen full-time contracts on offer from next season.
Portugal have had England's number over the past 12 months including here in Dubai and on the European Series whilst France, well with France you just never know. I am intrigued to see if Kenya continue their improvements from last season, the World Series needs a strong Kenyan side, competing in the Cup competition. Argentina are slightly in transistion but they are dangerous akin to their American counterparts in Canada and USA........jeez it's going to be an exciting weekend (Apologies to Scotland and Russia fans.....)
With the top sides, looking to put some distance between themselves and others and the above looking to cause upsets and make waves.........all is once again to play for on the HSBC World Sevens Series in Dubai.
I will be there bringing you news, scores, quotes and banter throughout the weekend, so it's more true than ever
See you @ 7he Sevens