This Friday marks the beginning of yet another World Sevens Series season with the renowned Dubai Sevens, the launch of another eventful year for the ever-growing game.
It’s the first stop of the 10-tournament circuit which covers events on all five continents, starting in Dubai this weekend before moving on to play in Cape Town a week later for the last tournament of the year. The new 7s year starts in Australia (Sydney) at the end of January closely followed by the New Zealand leg (Hamilton) at the beginning of February.
In March, the 16 teams head to America to play a leg in the US (Las Vegas) and in Canada (Vancouver) a week later. The world-famous Hong Kong 7s and the Singapore 7s are on order in April before the series ends in June with the two European competitions in London and the series finale in Paris for the first time.
There are 15 core teams this season including Argentina, Australia, Canada, England, Fiji, France, Kenya, New Zealand, Russia, Samoa, Scotland, South Africa, Spain, USA and Wales. In addition, one invitational on each round will complete the line-up.
So much to play for this season
While the World Sevens Series remains an ever-growing and entertaining prospect, it’s just one highlight in another momentous 7s-year. The outstanding event will be the seventh Rugby Sevens World Cup in July. Hosted at the AT&T Park in San Francisco, the 41k-seated home of the San Francisco Giants baseball team promises to become a hugely expected three-day long mega-event.
Unlike the annual World Sevens Series, the World Cup turned out to be a slightly more fortunate competition for the northern hemispheric teams. England won the inaugural event in 1993 on Scottish soil with famous characters like Lawrence Dallaglio and Matt Dawson before Wales produced a shock win over Argentina 2009 in Dubai to claim the title.
However, since then both tournaments and the historical launch of the Olympic 7s event has been dominated by men’s and women’s teams from the Southern Hemisphere. New Zealand above all, proved that the hugely successful talent production includes not only world-class 15s-aside and Rugby League athletes but also countless skilled 7s players.
Since the launch of the World Sevens Series in 1999, the Kiwis topped the table 12 out of 18 times at the end of the season and secured two World Cup titles, a record that shows how dominating they have been within this code of Union. However, in the past three seasons, Fiji topped the table twice while South Africa are the current champions following a perfect 2016/2017 season. England played a fine season and deservedly finished in a strong second position.
Before the World Cup in San Francisco, the international 7s elite will be challenged at another global competition, the 21st Commonwealth Games at Australia’s Gold Coast. From the 13th to the 15th of April, 16 men’s and 8 women’s teams are competing for the medals.
Who’s in the mix of silverware?
If South Africa showcases a similar performance like last season, surely coach Neil Powell has an excellent chance to guide the current Series and Commonwealth champions to back-to-back wins. Key players such as Chris Dry and Rosko Specman, both members of last season’s World Series Dream Team and the hugely experienced Kyle Brown and Justin Geduld are all back on board.
Kwagga Smith just interrupted his 7s-commitments with a few successful months of 15s with Super Rugby franchise Lions, Currie Cup side Golden Lions and a man-of-the-match performance for the Barbarians against the All Blacks. He’s back also back now and ready to strengthen a squad which finished last season with an impressive 28-point winning margin over second-placed England.
Simon Amor’s England squad looks promising and with the outstanding captain, Tom Mitchell and record try scorer Dan Norton they will be a good chance to finish in the top-three again, however Dan Bibby, one of England’s key player, won’t be available due to injury which could be a difficult one to replace.
The bookmakers favour Olympic gold medallists Fiji to finish second behind South Africa. With a new coaching setup, Welsh coach Gareth Baber who replaced the hugely successful Ben Ryan required time to find the winning recipe for the Flying Fijians. They finished the season in the third position but snatched only one tournament win, the Hong Kong 7s.
New Zealand, also under new guidance with Scottish coach Clark Laidlaw had a poor season, considering their enormously high standards. Laidlaw replaced coaching legend and IRB Hall of Fame member Gordon Tietjens, who stepped down after over 20 years in charge of New Zealand’s 7s team. Admittedly, not the easiest of tasks to follow such enormous footsteps, however failing to qualify for any Cup-finals during last year’s season must disappoint for any Kiwi fan. The nation is blessed with many top-stars such as the wonderful Tim Mikkelson and even though long-serving captain DJ Forbes announced his retirement New Zealand should be in the mix for the title.
One team with the most impressive improvements in recent years are the US boys. Sevens guru Mike Friday has formed a world-class team since his arrival in 2014. Especially former sprinter Perry Baker, who is not only the overall top points scorer of last season but also the freshly crowned World Rugby Sevens player of the year, has helped his team to reach a historic fifth place finish last season. They made it to the final in Singapore but just fell short against rivals Canada. However, 7s is an ever-growing giant in the States and the future looks bright for Mike Friday’s team. Hosting the World Cup and the sixth round of the series offers another golden opportunity to showcase the enthusiastic passion for 7s made in America.
Finally, it’s worth focussing on last year’s sixth-placed finisher Australia. In the last few years, the women’s side were the outstanding team from Down Under especially with the sensational Gold medal win in Rio. But the men’s team had a strong pre-season bagging a few important tournament wins, which should give Andy Friend’s outfit a confidence boost. Skipper Lewi Holland is optimistic, especially with the Commonwealth Games on home soil, this might be a very successful season for Australian rugby.
The World Sevens Series kicks-off this Friday 1st of December with the Dubai Sevens at The Sevens Stadium and concludes on Saturday the 2nd of December. For all tournament details and a full schedule click here.