Our in-house rugby scribe gives his views on this weekend’s Wellington Sevens.
We move on from the sunny skies of Dubai and Cape Town to ‘The Land of The Long White Cloud, which hosts the third leg of this year’s World Sevens Series. We have already witnessed two different tournament winners with South Africa claiming victory in the season opener and England claiming the maximum series points in Cape Town. Could Wellington produce a different winner? Or will the Blitzboks’ or English add to their respective win tallies?
Wellington Sevens | Friday 27 January - Sunday 29 January | The Westpac Stadium
To Win Outright
South Africa 17/10 | New Zealand 22/10 | Fiji 33/10 | England 6/1
Pool Opponents: Australia, Fiji, Japan
The Blitzboks were extremely unlucky not to claim the Cape Town Sevens title. They had lived up to their favourites tag, cantering to the final. An injury to speedster Seabelo Senatla, on the final day of the tournament, saw them go into the final without their most lethal attacking weapon. Had Senatla been fit, then the hosts would surely have seen off the English and claimed back-to-back tournament victories.
Senatla has overcome the injury he sustained and will be raring to go, especially considering he will be leaving the Blitzbok’s after next week’s Sydney leg to go try his hand at Super Rugby with the Stormers. Senatla isn’t the only Blitzbok member who’s going to leave the squad after the conclusion of next week’s Sydney Sevens, as Werner Kok is also linking up with the Stormers.
Coach Neill Powell will know that his squad will be significantly weakened when the two aforementioned players move on to play XVs. As such, the Blitzbok mentor will be targeting the next two tournaments. His side gave a good account of themselves at last year’s Wellington Sevens making it to the final, where they went down to the host nation by three points. Powell’s men will be going all out to go one better this year.
Player to Watch: Seabelo Senatla
At the risk of sounding extremely repetitive, my player to watch this week is Seabelo Senatla. This will be the flyer’s penultimate tournament before he links up with the Stormers. Senatla has already bagged himself 75 points this season and is tied with England’s Dan Norton at the top of the try scoring log. Expect the Welkom-born speedster to add a few more tries to his tally this weekend.
Pool Opponents: USA, France, Samoa
The New Zealanders seem to be recapturing some of their old form and they looked far more threatening in Cape Town than they did in Dubai. They tend to dominate their home tournaments, winning six of the nine tournaments that have been played at the Westpac Stadium.
Head coach Scott Waldrom has made some interesting selections for this weekend’s tournament bringing in four debutants. The most exciting of the four new recruits is Vilimoni Koroi. The New Zealand Schools representative only finished Matric two months ago but has already been tipped to have a brilliant career.
His coach has run the prodigious talent up with Waldrom likening him to New Zealand Sevens legend, Tomasi Cama. When asked about the youngster, Waldrom heaped on the praise stating "I guess what Vili brings to the team is what New Zealand have not had since Tomasi Cama stopped playing. That is a playmaker and the Fijian flair that guys in the past have brought to the team. He brings that ability to attack from nowhere and create space for other players."
Vili and his fellow debutants won’t have to do it all by themselves, however, as there’s are a whole host of New Zealand veterans fit and available including Rocky Khan, Tim Mikkelson and DJ Forbes.
Player to Watch: Tim Mikkelson
The New Zealand Sevens veteran may be heading into the twilight of his career but he’s still capable of outstripping opposition defenders with a neat turn of pace. Mikkelson's biggest strength, however, is his sheer power. The ease in which he’s able to stay on his feet and then offload – think Sonny Bill Williams here – is astonishing.
Pool Opponents: Australia, Japan, South Africa
The departure of Ben Ryan really has affected this Fijian side, and their mental fragility - something Ryan spoke about a length during his tenure - has been exposed during the later phases of the opening two tournaments.
The Fijians have a poor record in Wellington and have only made the final on two occasions. The last time they contested a final was back in 2012 where they went down to New Zealand 24-7.
The islanders have been handed a rather tough pool draw with big guns South Africa grouped alongside them. The Blitzboks have beaten the Fijians twice already this year and another loss to the South Africans could put pay to the islanders' chances in Wellington.
Player to Watch: Jerry Tuwai
Tuwai will be key to Fiji’s chances in Wellington. The little man – well, small by Fijian standards but he still dwarves most fully grown men – is at the heart of most of Fiji’s attacks. His ability to read the game and his distribution skills will be key to the Fijian’s cause.
Pool Opponents: Argentina, Kenya, Papua New Guinea
The English are currently priced up at 6/1 to win the Wellington leg. And despite the high price affixed to their names, I wouldn’t bet against them winning back-to-back legs. They were magnificent to watch in Cape Town, with their showing at the tournament epitomising their team spirit.
Simon Amor’s side have been handed a kind pool draw with only the Argentines offering any real threat to their chances of topping the pool. If the English can come through the group stage unscathed and Dan Norton continues to produce the goods, then they’ll have every chance of upsetting the applecart, a la Cape Town.
Player To Watch: Dan Norton
Norton was at the heart of England’s Cape Town Sevens victory. The 28-year-old not only illustrated a wicked turn of pace but also a physical prowess that is seldom matched by Sevens flyers. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if Norton ends this tournament with another DHL Impact Player award.
Verdict: South Africa 17/10
The Blitzboks will be desperate to claim the maximum amount of series points before Senatla and Kok link up with the Stormers. They look the more well-rounded of the four sides that currently top the betting.