What a fortnight it has been on the National Sevens Series. The rugby I have been blessed with watching is by far the highest quality rugby sevens seen on UK shores. Games are going down to the wire, four fantastic finals, group games are wide open and the race for the title still just about on.
What a fortnight it has been on the National Sevens Series. The rugby I have been blessed with watching is by far the highest quality rugby sevens seen on UK shores.
Games are going down to the wire, four fantastic finals, group games are wide open and the race for the title still just about on.
Now granted, it was not the hardest of predictions when I went for Samurai to win the West Country Sevens but I am pretty happy so far in getting most of my calculations right across both tournaments.
What is noticeable is that in the middle of the pack, anyone can win. There are definitely semi-final spots up for grabs and who knows, perhaps sides can go further and disrupt the triumvirate at the top; Samurai, Army and HFW Wailers.
This week, as we have a week off, we are back to the Power Rankings.
It would be easy to just rate these guys going on the overall table, but I think there is more to it.
Form, ambition and potential need to be taken into account and hopefully I can generate some talking points.
1. Samurai International
This one is the easy one. Samurai were arguably a little lucky at Rugby Rocks as they were beatable, perhaps to a greater extent that I have ever seen a Samurai side. But they showed a great deal of heart, founded on the success out in Amsterdam, and with Simon Hunt they have a proven try-scorer at this level.
Anyone who was at the West Country 7s last weekend had the fortune of seeing a Samurai side at their best; Rudd, Griffiths, Abbott and Rees really took the game by the scruff of the neck and it was great to watch. I was so pleased by the way the Army really pushed them in the final, showing once more that they are beatable and that sides have every chance of upsetting the form book in Manchester.
2. British Army
Team Manager John Voss mentioned on a number of occasions that they had 11 players missing at West Country, but you couldn’t tell. All the problems of the week before, regarding the implosion against Esher, seemed to be long behind them as they would not go away against Samurai at the day’s climax. They were made to work hard in the earlier rounds and I think this really benefitted them. If they can retain this form with Burenivula, Wessells and Qasekavitini all looking good combined with Lee and Satala returning, Manchester could be their tournament.
3. White Hart Marauders
I have been on the Marauders’ case hard throughout this summer, as I was frustrated by the sides they were putting out early on. I could see what they were doing though and I absolutely love the fact that the elder statesman Howard Graham is showing such trust in his youngsters; Mantella, Walker & Walsh.
The way these guys came back in the group game against the Smurfs showed courage and reminded me of the poise that they showed at National Schools back in March. The addition of Ifan Evans and Craig Hill, who have IRB experience, will really benefit these young guys. As I have said before, if new sevens internationals are to come out of this Series, they will be from the Marauders.
4. HFW Wailers
It's certainly not a secret that I really admire the way the Wailers have approached the Series and the way they are playing for most of each tournament. They were arguably unlucky in both of their semi-finals but for me at the moment there is something missing. I think this could be belief.
With all the will in the world it's hard to believe that they walk on to the field against Samurai actually thinking/knowing 'we are going to win this'. They have been on the wrong end of some beatings from Samurai in Holland and though they talk about their win in Rome against them a few years back, they also refer to this in the same statement as 'the game when everything went right'. For me at present the Wailers will forever be the bride until they get rid of the chip on the shoulder by grabbing a win against one of the top two. I still feel if they make a final…they will win it.
This is where it get's interesting. All of the sides in the middle of the pack can beat each other. Apache for me though look like the strongest unit. They dispatched Ronin with brutal efficiency in West Country and could have beaten Samurai and the Army at Rugby Rocks and West Country respectively. They have had some very tough draws so far, but until they make a semi-final this will probably continue as there is no protection for quarter-finalists. The issue I have with Apache is I find them a little boring. Efficient but boring.
They captatilise on mistakes, make it hard for the opposition at the breakdown and play the possession game well, but where is the wow factor. This might seem a little harsh as I have enormous respect for the side and backroom staff. But Apache matches are not circled on my schedule of 'must-watch' games.
6. Akuma Smurfs
Another side I have really admired. I love their garish kit (especially the reverse) and I find them a real breath of fresh air with them being relatively new to the circuit. They also show just how close things are from 3-7 in the rankings. They should have played the possession game in the dying minutes of their West Country group game against the Marauders, but ended up losing out by a score. The Marauders are 3 and the Smurfs 6, but these rankings would look very different if they had held out. Like Apache, they seem to be a tight unit and look to be really enjoying themselves on the Series which is great to see. If I was a betting man, these are the boys to get the first big upset.
7. Gilbert Pups
For me the Pups have flattered to deceive somewhat on the Series. They have not quite been full strength at either of the tournaments and with this due to change in Manchester their fortunes might also. My problem is there quarter-final performances. They were never really in the game against Samurai at the weekend no matter what the final score said and the Wailers cruised past them without breaking a sweat in London.
It's hard to see these guys making the step-up to the final four at the moment and they look like perennial quarter-finalists. There is a key ingredient missing and I can't put my finger on what it is. Nick Warren has to discover it if they are going to have an impact in the second half of the season.
8. Raging Bull Ronin
Seems strange not putting a side who have lost all their games at the bottom of the rankings. But I want to defend the gents in yellow somewhat. In London, they were in the Group of Death with the Army and Marauders and then lost out to a talented Irish Raiders side in a game they could have won. This weekend gone they came up against a Samurai side that wouldn't look out of place on the World Series and an Apache side who capitalised on them as they were still shell-shocked.
There are no excuses losing to the Cavaliers in the Plate though and if John Beart wants his team to save their season, drastic improvement is required. They will finish in the bottom two but with a good couple of weeks at least this might not be stone last.
9. Olorun ID
As I said, I have my favorites. I also have sides/people that I take a dislike too and these are the boys have really got my goat. I predicted they would lose all their games this past weekend and they did not let me down. I think they were lucky to win the Plate in London as the French Pyrenees threw the semi-final away and the Irish had a mad five minutes when they seemed to care more about flair than winning a game of rugby. Olorun seem to lack direction and certainly have no cutting edge.
If I was lucky enough to be playing on Sky Sports I would fight tooth and nail not too look stupid in front of the cameras but I just had the overriding feeling that unlike the eight other teams on the series that ID just did not care at the weekend. If that's not sorted ASAP, then it's hard to see them winning another game this season.
I will be back next week with my predictions for Manchester and I have felt all along that Heywood Road could be the place that we see the upsets take place before heading back down south. This weekend I intend to bask in the glory of England going out of the football World Cup as I cheer on Mexico. Actually I will probably watch some rugby...
On a side note, it was great to see one of my favorite World Series players Chris Cracknell at West Country, doing some punditry. If Apache found a way to get him on the field it could see me revoke all my previous comments about the blue & white.
Until next time. Keep it 7s