So Dubai is in the history books and there were no real surprises. The top eight sides qualified without any blips and then battled it out in the four deciding pool matches to finish off day one. As I expected South Africa were not the Empire that everyone seemed to think they would be and it was the old school physicality and efficiency of the Islanders in Samoa and Fiji that blasted their way to the semis where they were joined by eventual (perennial) winners New Zealand and the 'we love losing to Samoa' English.
So Dubai is in the history books and there were no real surprises. The top eight sides qualified without any blips and then battled it out in the four deciding pool matches to finish off day one.
As I expected South Africa were not the Empire that everyone seemed to think they would be and it was the old school physicality and efficiency of the Islanders in Samoa and Fiji that blasted their way to the semis where they were joined by eventual (perennial) winners New Zealand and the 'we love losing to Samoa' English.
New Zealand were worthy winners of the Dubai Sevens and now the ball is firmly in the court of the other big nations to make sure they don't record back-to-back wins in George this weekend. History has shown that if you let a nation get out in front with two wins from two, it’s highly unlikely that they get caught.
However for all of the fanfare that came with the beginning of the IRB World Series and the feeling that Olympic inclusion would have such an immediate impact on nations such as Kenya and USA I was a little disappointed. Considering the amount of Sevens rugby that is played in both countries in the summer and the time the coaches have with their players, this was a shame.
USA looked inexperienced at times, especially against England in the pool stages and Wales in the Bowl. But it was their defeat to Russia, another nation with Olympic aspirations who should be many years behind the Americans in their development, which makes me think the Europeans will be more likely to be playing at the business end of an Olympics than my American friends.
As for Kenya, they pushed England hard for seven minutes and Kayange and Injera, once again, looked a class act, but my problem with the 'shujaa' is that I dislike sides with potential that never convert. Kenya have played and won a number of tournaments over the summer, and many of their stars performed in front of big crowds at the Middlesex 7s for Samurai International.
The side now has the relevant experience from being together for a number of years but given that Kenya lost all three matches against ranked nations this weekend (England, New Zealand and South Africa), the Kenyans will want to put in a much better performance in their own continent. If Kenya are to be taken seriously they need to win, and win soon. Unless this happens they are forever going to be one of those sides that can pull off the big upset but are remembered more for their dancing off the field than on it.
Russia successful across the board
Congratulations must go out to Russian Sevens rugby this weekend as alongside the success of the National side in the main IRB tournament, three further sides from Russia were successful in other tournaments at the Dubai Sevens. Yug (semi finalists in Amsterdam 09) won the Plate of the International Invitational, Spartac won the Plate of the Overseas Invitational and Moscow region reached the semi-finals of the Overseas tournament.
If USA Rugby want to start seeing improvements at the level that the Russians are, they need to start getting teams entered in the supplementary tournaments. It strikes me that there is no value whatsoever for USA 7s players such PJ Konmongnan, playing in New York last week for NOVA winning every game by over 30 points, when his equivalent in other nations are playing against some of the best players in the world.
Whether it’s a USA 2nd VII or a US Invitational side, given that there is now backing from Emirates, the US need to start growing the amount of rugby their whole squad are playing in. Caravelli spends a lot of time with Paul Treu and taking a leaf out of his book would be helpful. Consider the amount rugby the South Africa 7s squad take in - which leads me on to my next point.
The International Marauders won the main Invitational tournament this weekend and congratulations to them. But here is my problem. Is it really the International Marauders if they ship in the whole of the SA Vipers squad from South Africa, including a couple of players from the SA winning IRB series team last year?
Invitational rugby is such that you can invite whoever you like, but I am of the opinion that it hurts the brand of the side itself when they just basically 'sell their soul' for the winning of a tournament. Of course everyone does it and it made me laugh when I read the Samurai International blog where they mention that the Marauders were actually the SA Vipers far too many times for comfort, considering the very same South African side playing under the Samurai International banner won the Amsterdam 7s in 2008.
I love Invitational 7s at all levels, it gives young and old the chance to meet fellow players from all over the world. Sporting Chance (managed by Samurai International) had a real international flavour with a nice mix of experience which the players will have got a lot out of. But when a team brings in a whole side of players this is not quite the same, who does this benefit? The International Marauders get to say they won the title and Paul Treu gets his side further developed (through an English Invitational side).
Ok so I am ranting a little and perhaps for no reason or because I have been watching invitational 7s for 20 years but I just feel grudgingly towards international sides entering as another team. In the future if sides are playing in the International and there is a supplementary invitational tournament then these sides should enter as their own team - in this case the SA Vipers. This way the integrity of the 7s landscape including winners and losers stay firm without any discrepancies.
Good luck to all of the sides and players heading out to George this weekend, and thank you everyone for your emails last week. I shall be publishing my thoughts on your questions later in the week.
Crackers Watch - 'keeping tabs on the tanned one'
On a final note, as you all know one of my favourite players on the IRB circuit is England's Chris Cracknell who after a fair few weeks out of rugby looked spot on at the weekend, getting a number of scores and once again being the workhorse of the England engine room. Though I was a little unsure on why he appeared on the wing as often as he did, his Gas is not his strong point. Good tourny Chris, keep it up & great tan.
Got a Question for Bolter..........
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