The HSBC Sevens Series returns to New Zealand on 7 – 8 February, and this year the competition is as hot as ever. Looking around the circuits it’s going to be very hard to pick an obvious front runner as favourite for the tournament. There are a few names that leap to mind as potential contenders though, lets look at the potential front runners for the round victory:
Yes, so I’m a New Zelander, writing about the New Zealand team to face off in the New Zealand round. I’m not about to deny a certain level of parochialism here. The simple fact of the matter is though, the Kiwi boys are damn good. Look at the leadership of DJ Forbes. Look at the coaching of Sir Gordon Tietjens. Look at the depth of talent within the team. Look at the number of rounds this team has consistently made it into the finals. New Zealand has always been one of the big teams to beat, and they’re certainly going to be one of the hardest teams of this round. New Zealand know how to use the field to their best advantage, they have a great captain and they have a great team spirit. The Men in Black are always going to be one of the top contenders. They do however seem to have a thorn in their side in the form of…
The Blitzbokke boys are on fire at the moment. Two big round victories in South Africa and Las Vegas will have the South African’s well and truly on the boil. Not to mention they have managed to usurp New Zealand and have taken the overall series lead after their last victory. The South Africans will be here to further tighten their hold on their series, and nothing short of absolute victory will do for them. Can they do it? Absolutely. Any team facing South Africa needs to approach them with the respect they deserve, or they are going to get eaten alive. Blitzbokke will have a huge target on their backs, and I really don’t think they mind that at all. These guys play as a solid unit, they all know where they need to be and what they need to do. Kyle Brown has a great head on his shoulders, and with try scorers like Branco Du Preez and Werner Kok you have to believe these guys have the goods.
You would however also be foolish to discount the flying Fijians. Watching Fiji play Sevens Rugby to my mind is like watching Brazil play football. It’s simply beautiful. Fiji always comes in with a ton of heart, pride and passion. On more than one occasion they’ve left with the cup in hand as well. Fiji was unlucky not to finish better in Las Vegas, a couple of unfortunate reffing calls working against them and a couple of bad plays costing them a chance at the top four. Fiji however are legitimate finals contenders, and they will be a team to watch. I personally love watching the vibrant game play these guys bring to the field, they liven the whole series up, and they’ve given the Kiwi’s a hell of a fright more than once. Could the Fijians take the cup again? It’s not out of the realms of possibility.
Yes, Canada. The Red Nation has firmly put itself on the map after the Las Vegas round, and this time around they’re going to be coming out to prove to the world that wasn’t a fluke. I’ll state right here and now I think the Canadians have what it takes to make the top four again. They’ve got a great captain in John Moonlight. Experience in Phil Mack, who’s calm and even headed game play set him up as a real play maker. They’ve also had the return of two of my favourite players, Sean Duke and Nate Hirayama. Yes, I’m a Kiwi, but I’ve said it before, I’ve really fallen under the Red Nation spell. It’s more than just I hope they make the finals, I actively want to see Canada get there. These guys have put in a lot of hard yards to make it as far as they have. I’d love to see them get the rewards they deserve. I’d also really love to see how they fare in a Cup final game. If I was a betting man – which I am – I’d be willing to drop a small wager on the Red Nation surprising a few teams, and upsetting a few more.
Pacific nations are always hard to beat on the rugby field. It’s in their blood, these guys are born with rugby balls in their hands. Samoa has given the rugby world so many great players, they form a solid part of the All Blacks, as well as having a phenomenally strong home nation fifteens team. The Sevens team is similarly powerful. Sheer brute strength couple with skill and intelligence make for a team that could bring a few upsets of their own. Plus they’ll be wanting revenge for their defeat at the hands of the Canadians in Las Vegas. I don’t know that I can see Samoa going all the way, but I also don’t know that I’d bet too heavily against them.
One of the best things about Sevens rugby, and particularly this series, is you really don’t know what is going to happen. There are a number of developing rugby nations, such as Kenya, who can certainly upset the bigger nations game plans. There is no such thing as a foregone conclusion here, and that is what makes this series so exciting. Many of the teams have already arrived in New Zealand to prepare for their attack on the title, I for one can not wait for Friday to get here, and for these teams to answer some of the questions that have been asked of them.
Last Word on Sport will be reporting from the Wellington Sevens this year, make sure you’re following our twitter and myself for details, also follow the Wellington Sevens Twitter feed here, and their Facebook feed here.
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Main Photo Credit: John Gannon via Flickr
Fiji Picture: John Gannon via Flickr