HSBC World Sevens Series: Dubai Preview

The much-anticipated start to a blockbuster year of Sevens rugby gets underway at the Sevens Stadium in Dubai on Friday the 1st of December.

The 2017/18 HSBC Sevens Series will kick-off this Friday and rugby fans are in for a treat with those flying men and their dancing feet sure to get the season off to a scintillating start.

The opening leg of the series will take place in Dubai and run from Friday the 1st of December until Saturday the 2nd of December. The first day's play will see teams square off in Round-Robin Pool fixtures while the second day is all about the knockouts with teams battling it out to see who makes the three finals - Cup. Plate and Shield.

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Dubai Sevens | Friday 1 December - Saturday 2 December | The Sevens Stadium

To Win Tournament Outright
South Africa 15/20 | Fiji 5/2 | England 7/1 | New Zealand 7/1 | United States 10/1 | Australia 22/1 | Samoa 66/1 | Scotland 28/1

The Challengers

South Africa
Pool Opponents: Canada, Kenya, and Uganda

The defending Dubai and World Seven Series Champions really do enjoy the battle in the desert. They have won two of the last three tournaments staged here and have appeared in three of the last four finals. This is one of the reasons that Neil Powell's side come into this one as red-hot favourites with the bookies.

Another reason for the Blitzboks being handed the favourites tag is their vastly experienced squad, with the likes of Philip Snyman, Kwagga Smith, Cecil Afrika and Seabelo Senatla having a multitude of campaigns under their belts. These men know how to win tournaments, especially the season opener.

Player to Watch: Kwagga Smith
The Golden Lions man has really seen his stocks in the XV man game rise over the past 12 months with an immaculate Super Rugby campaign being followed by a barnstorming international performance for the Barbarians during the invitational side's narrow loss to New Zealand.

Smith will once again return to the XV's game after the fourth tournament of this Series concludes, and you can bet your bottom dollar that Kwagga will want to make a mark on the Sevens Series prior to linking up with the Lion Super Rugby squad. He should be able to do just that with his ability to assert himself at the breakdown as well as his amazing turn of pace, sure to prove a handful for opposition defenders.

Fiji
Pool Opponents: Australia, Wales, and Japan

I'm not one to try and predict a team's fortunes before a ball has been kicked in anger but I think the 2017/18 campaign is going to be a tough old one for the Islanders. They have an entirely new coaching staff, who will struggle to replicate the feats of former mentor Ben Ryan's team. They have also lost a few key personnel with the annual exodus to the French Top 14 robbing Fiji of some astounding talent once again.

Having said all of the above, the Fijians, like the South Africans, do have an extremely health record out in Dubai having won 2013 and 2014 events. They also tend to start the season like a house on fire and then endure a mid-season slump.

Player to Watch: Jerry Tuwai
A lot will rest of the playmaker's shoulders this year with last season's skipper, Osea Kolinisau, moving onto pastures new. While Tuwai is an absolute freak with ball-in-hand, it will be his leadership skills that are most vital to his side this term. He will have to pick his boys up when their heads drop, which is no mean feat considering how mentally fragile the Fijians were last term.

England
Pool Opponents: Scotland, France, and Spain
English Sevens has certainly come on in leaps and bounds and the men from the northern hemisphere will look to mark that improvement with a Series victory this year. If they are to achieve this, they are going to need a fast start to the campaign.

Like South Africa and Fiji, the English have fared rather well out in the desert winning both the 2013 and 2010 and 2011 events. They also managed a second place in 2015.

Player to Watch: James Rodwell
The fiery ginger was an absolute revelation for the 'Poms last season, and not many people, particularly those who hold South African passports, will have forgotten the demolition job he did on the Blitzboks at last season's Cape Town Sevens Final.

The Englishman is an absolute unit and has the power game fitting of his physique. He also has a deft set of hands as well as a surprising turn of pace for his size. He'll certainly be one to watch out for in the desert this coming weekend.

New Zealand
Pool Opponents: USA, Argentina, and Samoa
Scott Waldrom's charges will be looking to atone for a rather disastrous 2016/17 campaign by getting this year's Series off to a fast start. Injuries to key personnel and an ageing squad severely hampered New Zealand's chances last season. The outlook for this term is a much more positive one for the 'Men from the Land of the Long White Cloud' with a plethora of talented youngsters coming into the squad.

The New Zealanders are going to need their young guns to fire from the word go, however, as they have been drawn in the Dubai 'Pool of Death' which features two vastly improved sides in the form of Argentina and Samoa as well as a solid United States outfit.

Player to Watch: Joe Webber
There are a lot more highly rated youngsters in this New Zealand set-up, and I seriously doubt that Webber will be playing the shortest version of the game for too long as he looks tailor-made for a spot on the wing in the XV's code, but I think he will make a mark for the Kiwis out in Dubai.

The diminutive flyer was in great form for Bay of Plenty during the Mitre 10 Cup, running in some astonishing tries. His quick feet and blistering turn of pace will have opposing defences in sixes and sevens out in Dubai.

The Dark Horse

Samoa
Pool Opponents: New Zealand, Argentina, and USA

Former New Zealand mentor Gordan Tietjens will be looking to work his magic on the Samoan outfit. The veteran Sevens mentor started to put his stamp on this Samoan side last year, with the Islanders looking a whole lot stronger defensively. They also looked a lot better on attack than previous incarnations had.

The Islanders may have come on leaps and bounds over the past 12 months but this upswing in form has been mainly due to a handful of players upping their games rather than the whole squad improving.

In truth, the Samoans are far too reliant on the likes of Samoa Toloa to spark things. As such there's absolutely no chance of them challenging for the Series title. They could win a tournament or two this year, however. And considering their Dubai form - they won the 2012 event - as well as their price, they're certainly are worth having a small punt on.

Player to Watch: Samoa Toloa
Has there ever been a more aptly named man to represent a nation? Samoa was in fantastic touch last season, topping the try-scoring charts for his nation with 22 five-pointers.

Toloa is a physical beast but also has a solid rugby head on his shoulders. He scythed his way through the middle of a defence on numerous occasions during the 2016/17 Sevens season. He isn't the sort of player to go around someone when he can simply go through them.

Verdict: South Africa 15/20
The Blitzboks have a vastly experienced squad who know how to produce the goods in Dubai. I can see them lifting the Cup come the close of Day 2.

Written by Darry Worthington for @Hollywoodbets.net

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