The Dubai Sevens | 4-5 December | The Sevens Stadium
With players of this caliber taking to the field in Dubai, we are definitely in for a pulsating opening round of the World Sevens Series.
To Win Outright
New Zealand 16/10
South Africa 4/1
Not content with conquering the 15 man game, the All Blacks have decided to send some of their World Cup stars to join up with their sevens squad. The aforementioned, Sonny-Bill Williams will be joined in the squad by fellow All Black, Liam Messam. The duo will be an absolute handful for opposition teams this weekend. While the influx of All Blacks will certainly make this New Zealand Sevens side stronger, it may take them time to adjust to the conditioning requirements of the code.
The likes of DJ Forbes, Gillies Kaka and Sherwin Stowers have all been on the circuit for years now while exciting All Blacks prospects Ardie Savea and Akira Ioane will return to the Sevens side having left the team in search of furthering their XV's careers a few year's ago.
Pool opponents: USA, France, Portugal
Player To Watch
While there's going to be a lot of hype surrounding Williams and Messam, I think the man who will have caught the world's eye come the end of this tournament will be Akira Ioane. The twenty-year-old really impressed me with his performances for the Auckland Blues at the back end of last season's Super 15. The youngster was also in fine form for Auckland during this year's ITM Cup.
There is no team on the sevens circuit more capable of exploiting the dynamics of the game than the Fijians. The Islanders thrive on the open-ended nature of this particular format. Their squad contains big powerful men, who have amazing skill sets, and pace to burn.
Head coach, Ben Ryan, has opted to field a very similar looking squad to the one that dominated the sevens circuit last season. Last season's top series points scorer, Osea Kolinisau, will skipper the side, while rookie of the year, Jerry Tuawi, will also be in the fourteen man squad despite contract offers from Super Rugby franchises.
Pool opponents: Argentina, Canada, Japan
Player To Watch:
While Kolinsau dominated the points scoring charts his teammate Savenaca Rawaca ended last season as the series top points scorer. Like Tuawi, there were a bucket load of Super Rugby franchises after Rawaca's signature. which is no surprise as the big winger is an absolute beast and opposition defenses should be wary of the threat he carries.
While it has been a poor year in general for South African Rugby, there is a bright light at the end of a very dark tunnel. While the Blitzbokke may have ultimately lost out on the overall series championship to the Fijians, they did put in impressive showings throughout the year.
The Blitzbokke started last year's campaign with a win in Dubai, and will be desperate to repeat the trick this term. They have a quality squad which has a nice blend of youth and experience. The squad has been further boosted by the inclusion of former 'Boks, Ryan Kankowski and Francais Hougaard. Both players began their careers on the circuit, so they should be able to readjust to the rigours of the abridged format of the game quite easily.
Pool Opponents: Scotland, Samoa, Russia
Player To Watch
Werner Kok was outstanding for the South African's last year. The former Western Province under-19 representative is just as comfortable on the wing as he is at centre - there's not much difference between the two positions in this code of the game if I'm being honest. He's a player that relishes the contact situation and his hard hitting could be key for his side when they take on the physical Samoans during the pool stage.
The English sevens squad mimicked their 15 man compatriots last season, by giving a rather poor account of themselves. The only highlight of a less than impressive year for the English Sevens side was their tournament victory in Japan. While there was a lot of hype around the young English squad, they ultimately stumbled to a fourth-place finish when last year's season had concluded.
Head coach, Simon Amor, has decided to add two new faces to his squad for the opening round of the 2015/16 series. Cameron Cowell and Ruaridh McConnochie will both make their debuts this week while skipper Tom Mitchell returns from a lengthy injury layoff.
Pool Opponents: Australia, Wales, Kenya
Player To Watch
Phil Burgess is likely to be the key man for England this season. Last year's interim captain has a great turn of pace and vision that most Rugby Union flyhalves would pay to have. He is also a great leader, which is something this England side are in desperate need of.
Verdict: South Africa 4/1
I'm going to do this verdict via a process of elimination. England are the first to fall off my list of possible winners list as they've got a very tough pool. The Kiwi's are the next to go. While I know they've got some big names in their squad, I think they're going to need at least a tournament to gel. This is where it gets tricky. The Fijians are are the indisputable masters of this game, but the South Africans have a history of doing well in Dubai........ after much consideration I've decided to back the Blitzbokke.
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