It’s the penultimate round of the HSBC Sevens Series and as the season nears it’s end, the season finale is the Paris Sevens from 13-15 May at the Stade Jean Bouin. The series returns to the ‘City of Love’ after a lapse of 10 years with South Africa the last team to claim the title here, and that team is ready to pounce as teams get back into this years ‘Sevens Fiesta’..
Paris will always be remembered as the last city to host the Olympics when rugby was a participating sport back in 1924. On that occasion, the Americans walked away with the Gold medal and now, as we head to Rio De Janeiro in August for the summer games, World Rugby has brought back the love of rugby in the City of Love.
Fiji still leads the table despite their ‘shock loss’ to Kenya in Singapore. The Kiwis have brought back most of their big guns–minus Ardie Savea who has withdrawn from their Olympic squad, while Quade Cooper has been told he is ‘not needed’ by his national sevens squad. Add to that the fight for survival between Portugal (Los Lobos/Wolfs) and Russia (The Bears) which will go to another level this weekend, so the question from Last Word On Sports is “who will be left standing?”
To help answer that, here is your Paris Sevens ‘Lowdown.’
Pool A (Kenya, NZL, Portugal, Russia)
Singapore Sevens champions Kenya lead out Pool A and they face the Kiwis who have recalled their Super Rugby stars. Inconsistency has affected both sides and New Zealand (NZL) will be trying to get one over their Kenyans rivals who have beaten them twice this season.
Coach Benjamin Ayimba has recalled Billy Odhiambo although they will be without Dennis Ombachi again, as they try to continue their winning run in the European leg. Veterans Andrew Amonde, Willy Ambaka together with brothers Humphery Kayange and Collins Injera will spearhead their campaign.
Kenya squad: Oscar Ayodi, Robert Aringo, Frank Wanyama, Lugonzo Ligamy, Billy Odhiambo, Humphrey Kayange, Alex Olaba, Andrew Amonde, Nelson Oyoo, Samuel Oilech, Collins Injera, Willy Ambaka.
The Kiwis have lost three recent captains to a variety of injuries, so have called on former ‘bad boy’ Kurt Baker to take the reigns in Paris. As a positive, they have welcomed back the Ioane brothers; Akira and Rieko and also fiesty halfback Augustine Pulu, as they try to deny Fiji their first ever series back-to-back titles.
With DJ Forbes, Liam Messam and ‘captain fantastic’ Tim Mikkelson out with injury, it’s time for Dylan Collier and Lewis ‘Shadowhunter’ Ormond to step up their games. With such a huge injury toll in the forwards hovering over this side, it wouldn’t be strange of Sir Gordon Tietjens to put the dreams of a nation on the shoulders of a young forward pack that have been weighed, measured and tested [in Titch’s famous Yo-Yo sessions] and knowing the influence of this Super-Coach, it might very well work brilliantly.
New Zealand squad: Akira Ioane, Teddy Stanaway, Regan Ware, Lewis Ormond, Dylan Collier, Augustine Pulu, Pita Ahki, Gilles Kaka, Sione Molia, Reiko Ioane, Kurt Baker, Sonny Bill Williams.
This weekend is all about finishing ‘higher’ then the Russians for the Los Lobos, and with the inclusion of Kiwi-born Carl Murray, they have a good enough team that can battle the odds because the Russians currently have the upper hand in this World Series fight for a place at the Sevens table.
Los Lobos squad: Aderito Esteves, VascoRibeiro, Joao Manuel Lino, Pedro Leal, Carl Murray, Nuno Guedes, Pedro Silverio, Vasco Mendes, Joao Belo, Tiago Fernandes, Tomas Appleton, Duarte Moreira.
The Bears have a real fight on their hands this weekend. It’s all about retaining their Sevens Series place and after the next two days of rugby, after they have been drawn in the same pool, only one team will survive–and the Japanese will replace the other.
The Bears squad: Stanislav Bondarev, Mikhail Babaev, Vladislav Sozonov, Vladsilav Lazarenko, Ilya Babaev, Roman Roschin, Eduard Filatov, Ramil Gaysin, Vitaly Zhivatov, Yury Gostyuzhev, Denis Simplekevich, German Davydov.
Pool B (Fiji, Samoa, Scotland, Wales)
Fiji coach Ben Ryan has roped in his ‘big guns’ but will they make the final cut? We will see when the final team is named and while Fiji will certainly be without Save Rawaca, they welcome back Samisoni Viriviri, Josua Tuisova, Leone Nakarawa, Wise Nayacalevu and Semi Kunatani. Those are some great additions and also returning; after sitting out Singapore, are Pio Tuwai, Isake Katonibau and Viliame Mata. A star studded side for sure.
They are eight points ahead of the chasing bunch and will try to wrap-up the series in the City of Love. Only the Kiwis have ever gone back-to-back and the Fijians will try their very hardest to do that, come what may. Ce la vie!
Fiji squad: Apisai Domolailai, Jasa Veremalua, Semi Kunatani, Isake Katonibau, Pio Tuwai, Amenoni Nasilasila, Osea Kolinisau, Masi Dakuwaqa, Jerry Tuwai, Kitione Taliga, Samisoni Viriviri, Vatemo Ravouvou. Josua Tuisova, Leone Nakarawa, Waisea Nayacalevu, Viliame Mata. (*only 12 will be selected before Game Day)
The Manu Samoa team under Damian McGrath have been Fiji’s ‘bogey team’ this season. Growing with confidence after a slow start, a strong squad that includes Falemiga Selesele, Alex Samoa, TilaMealoi, Belgium Tuatagaloa, Samoa Toloa and Siaosi Asofolau. They all will be the key players for them this weekend.
Only one question is unanswered. Can they do it again without the likes of Phoenix-Hunapo?
Samoa squad: Alefosio Tapili, Falemiga Selesele, Siaosi Asofolau, Savelio Ropati, Ed Fidow, Etiuefa Fiava’ai, Alex Samoa, Tomasi Logotuli, Tila Mealoi, Samoa Toloa, Belgium Tuatagaloa, Alamada Motuga.
With the possibility of XV’s international Mark Bennett joining the team in a quest for a spot to Rio, the mood in the Scots camp is at it’s highest point as the players know this is their ‘final say’ to prove their worth to the selectors of the Great Britain Olympic team.
It’s going to be like a mini-trial against the Welsh side and they will fight hard for any points on offer. One motivating factor will be a chance to stop Fiji reaching the Cup qualifying stages– that is a great incentive to perform this weekend.
Scottish squad: Scott Ridell, Douglas Fife, Hugh Blake, James Johnstone, Nicholas McLennan, Mark Robertson, James Farndale, Damien Hoyland, Joseva Nayacavou, Scott Wight, James Fleming, Glenn Bryce.
The Welsh side have been ‘lukewarm’ but hopefully, with the European sun shining on their backs, they must work extra hard to stop the two island teams from progressing through to Sunday. Luke Treharne, Sam Cross, Tom Isaacs and Luke Morgan will certainly try and even though it is a ‘big ask’, they will have Welsh song ringing in their ears, as fans cross the Channel to show their patriotism.
Welsh squad: Luke Treharne, Morgan Williams, Lioyd Lewis, Luke Morgan, Angus O’Brien, Tom Isaacs, Ethan Davies, Lloyd Evans, James Benjamin, Sam Cross, Adam Thomas, Benjamin Roach.
Pool C (RSA, Australia, England, Brazil)
Neil Powell has recalled Rosko Specman and Francois Houggard and they have a formidable side to push Fiji all the way to the finish line beginning in Paris.
They have the speed, strength in the breakdown, a great defensive pattern, all that is left is for South Africa (RSA) to ‘execute their plan’ and finish the job to spoil the Islanders from retaining their overall series title–besides that, they are in fact the defending champs from Paris 2006. LWOS says “defend what is your Blitzboks.”
Blitzboks squad: Ryan Kankowski, PhilipSnyman, TimAgaba, Kwagga Smith, Francois Houggard, Kyle Brown, Dylan Sage, Stephan Dippenaar, Rosko Specman, CecilAfrica, Seabelo Senatla, Ruhan Nel.
The Thunderbolts surprisingly released Quade Cooper this week after a stuttering effort. Not seen by many, in reality he hasn’t really adapted well to the game and there are quality players who can take his place. Coach Andy Friend will rely on the halves pairings of Lewis Holland, Josh Holmes and James Stannard to lead the Aussies to victory.
A positive is young rookie Henry Hutchinson returning from injury along with Con Foley. Crowd favourite the ‘Honey badger’ Nic Cummings has another shot in the Sevens Series and a certain Jesse Parahi (anyone remember him) must be given the ball to see if he really is the talent most can see under the surface.
In a three way battle in this pool, it looks good for the Aussies to join the Blitzboks in the Cup quarter finals even though they are more likely a team that will ‘stir things up’ for every other side in Rio. Right now, they lack the finishing touches to win a tournament proper. That is right now–by August, the Lowdown has to ask ‘maybe they find it in Rio?’ Peak then, and the Gold will be heading to the ‘Land Down Under’..
Thunderbolts squad: Henry Hutchinson, Tom Kingston, Sam Meyers, Josh Holmes, James Stannard, Corn Foley, Cam Clark, Jesse Parahi, Ed Jenkins, Boyd Killingworth, Nic Cummings, Pat McCutcheon.
Former New Zealand sevens player Warwick Lahmert will lead an English side without Tom Mitchell, James Rodwell and Dan Norton. That being said, there is a good chance for these youngsters to step up and bring glory back to English rugby.
English squad: Richard Di Carpentier, Charlie Hayter, Oliver Lindsay-Hague, Alexander Davis, Harry Glover, Ethan Waddleton, Ruaridh McConnochie, TomBowen, Cam Cowell, Warwick Lahmert, Oskar Hirskyj-Douglas, Alex Gray.
The Brazilians had a good outing in Vancouver, despite not winning as they continue to build towards their hosting role in Rio, and coach Andres Romagnoli will try to get his team to cause ‘some problems’ in this pool, to tell the world “hey, we are here to compete.”
Brazillian squad: Stefano Ciantorno, Martin Schaefer, Julian Fiori, Felipe Silva, Luca Rodriguez, Moises Rodriguez, Lucas Muller, Felipe Sancery, Laurent Couhet, Thiago Evaristo, Gustavo Albuquerque, Andre Da Silva.
Pool D (Argentina, France, USA, Canada)
The Pumas welcome back Matias Moroni and Santiago Cordero–watch these two inspire this proud Argentine outfit.
Los Pumas squad: Fernando Luna, Santiago Alvarez, German Schultz, Juan Pablo Estelles, Axel Muller, Matias Moroni, Javier Rojas Alvarez, Gaston Revol, Rodrigo Etchart, Bautista Ezcurra, Santiago Cordero, Franco Sabato.
The Les Bleus will try to make it special in their home tournament, and with Terry Bouhraoua back, watch out for something special from him and the ‘assasin’ Virimi Vakatawa.
The love that fans will show for this squad could be the difference; they did win the plate final back in 2006, so with that sort of amore in the air, the French may be the toast of the town.
Leus Bleus squad: Jonathan Laugel, Manoel Dall’igna, Jean Baptise Mazoue, Terry Bouhraoua, Stephen Perez, Steeve Barry, Virimi Vakatawa, Pierre Gilles Lakafia, Jeremy Acardi, Julien Candelon, Sacha Valleau, Damien Cler.
The Americans know they have a title to defend next week [in London] they must lay the platform this week, especially without Carlin Isles. Mike Friday will be demanding a cup quarter final or higher finish this weekend.
Is that achievable? Of course, with Madison Hughes and Martin Iosefo in combination with the pure speed of Perry Baker.
Eagles Sevens squad: Nate Ebner, Ben Pinkelman, Danny Barrett, Garrett Bender, Zac Test, Thretton Palamo, Folau Niua, Maka Unufe, Nate Auguspurger, Madison Hughes, Perry Baker, Martin Iosefo.
The Canadians haven’t had the luxury of a full squad all season, due to injury and are still without Nanyak Dala but have called on Admir Cejanovic and Mike Fuailefau to carry their torch in the City of Love. The strong Canadian/French ties will mean they have a great deal of support, so they hope to perform as well as they did in the Canada Sevens.
Maple Leafs squad: Sean White, Admir Cejanovic, Mike Fuailefau, John Moonlight, Conor Trainor, Phil Berna, Lucas Hammond, Justin Douglas, Nathan Hirayama, Matt Mullins, Lucas Bradley, Adam Zaruba.
The stage is set, Paris will be all dressed up and the party will be running for two full days as the tournament returns after a ten year break. All the teams have a goal to finish strongly over this next fortnight,but their ultimate goal remains to have a fit and well prepared side come July and August. Returning to the HSBC Sevens Series, Paris will highlight the best sevens players today and build up the enthusiasm for London next week, and ultimately, Rio.
Follow all the LOWDOWN of the Paris Sevens here on Last Word On Sports.
“Main photo credit”