|Our preview for this weekend's HSBC Sevens action taking place at the Stade Jean Bouin|
With only two more rounds remaining and the Summer Olympics fast approaching, Sevens coaches from around the globe will be putting the final touches to their squads. Some high profile players have already lost their places in their national squad with Wallaby stalwart Quade Cooper one of the first to be cut.
While we won’t see the mercurial pivot in action this weekend we still have rugby mega star Sonny-Bill Williams as well as cult hero Nick "The Honey Badger" Cummins to keep us entertained.
But enough with the pleasantries, let’s get into the meat of this piece.
To Win Tournament Outright
Fiji 18/10 | New Zealand 2/1 | South Africa 9/4
Pool Opponents: Kenya, Portugal, and Russia
Gordon Tietjen’s charges currently lie in third spot on the HSBC World Series standings; two points adrift of the second-placed Blitzbokke and a further eight points behind neighbours Fiji. While they are still in with a sniff of claiming the 2015/16 series title, this campaign has been more about building for the Olympics than mounting a serious title challenge.
I think Tietjen’s will be pretty pleased with the progression of his squad especially when you consider how many injuries the New Zealand mentor has had to deal with. The most pleasing aspect of his side’s evolution must be the improvements made by Sonny-Bill Williams. The monstrously built Union convert struggled to adapt to the fast pace nature of the shortest form of the game at the start of the year. He’s made huge inroads over the last four or so months though, and looks to have now taken to the game like a fish to water.
Williams will have to be at his immaculate best this weekend, however, as the Kiwi’s have been grouped in the same pool as a Kenyan side who will be as fired up as a kid on Christmas morning having tasted their first Cup victory last time out in Singapore. The two other sides in the New Zealander's pool shouldn’t cause Tietjens and his charges too many problems, however.
Player To Watch: Sonny-Bill Williams
The former Waikato Chiefs inside centre just gets better and better with each passing tournament. He has attributes to his game – that world famous out the backhand offload being one – that no other player on the circuit can match.
Pool Opponents: Samoa, Scotland, and Wales
The Sevens specialists seemed to miss a trick out in Singapore. Having reached the final of the Singapore tournament without really breaking a sweat, every rugby fan across the globe thought they would make mincemeat out of the plucky Kenyans. How wrong we all were. When all was said and done at the Singapore National Stadium it was the Kenyans who had lifted the trophy while the Fijians had to settle for a runners-up medal.
The Singapore tournament revealed an inherent flaw in the Fijians game; their discipline. While the islanders were rather well behaved on the field of play, there was a lot missing from the mental side of their game.
Coach Ben Ryan would have laminated his charges for their lack of mental fortitude. The Englishman sets huge targets for his side and doesn’t take defeat well. He will have torn into his players following their mental apparition.
That final defeat may not have been the worst thing to have happened to the Fijians with the Olympics just around the corner. It will have taught them that they can’t just simply show up and expect to win a game regardless of how unfancied the opposition are. I can see the islanders coming out for this tournament with a lot more focus. They also have the 2015/16 title within touching distance so the motivation should definitely be there.
Player To Watch: Samisoni Viriviri
The devastating Viriviri makes his return to the Fijian sevens set up for the first time in nearly two years. Blessed with an amazing turn of pace as well as a brilliant rugby brain, Viriviri ended the 2014 HSBC Sevens World Series as both the circuits top try scorer and player of the year. He’s likely to bag a bucket load of tries this weekend.
Pool Opponents: Australia, England, and Brazil
Neil Powell’s men have been once again drawn in the pool of death. Not only will they have to take on old foes Australia but they will also have to face off against an ever-improving English squad before the group stage of the Paris tournament has concluded.
While the Blitzbokke have been handed a tough assignment, they do have a few veterans returning to the fold which will undoubtedly enhance their chances of tasting success out in Paris. Both Rosco Speckman and Francois Hougaardd have returned to the fold and while they basically fill the same role as playmakers, the extra depth that they bring to the table will prove invaluable for the Blitzboks.
Player To Watch: Rosko Speckman
The former Sharks academy man is a nuggety sort who’s capable of launching a counter attack when nothing seems on. His distribution skills and his ability to spark an attack from nothing will be key for his side out in Paris
Verdict: Fiji 18/10
A fired up Fiji is a dangerous Fiji. That loss in Singapore will be hurting the islanders and they will be out to atone for that capitulation this weekend. They have the talent to go all the way this weekend and my money is on them doing just that.