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London Sevens: Jarryd Hayne Debuts for Fiji, Blitzboks Challenge for Title

This weekend it’s the series finale of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series, and England Rugby’s headquarters Twickenham will be the venue Of the London Sevens from the 21-22 of May 2016. The title is on the line in front of an expected fullhouse.

It’s been an epic season of sevens rugby so far, breaking records as the game of sevens is ready to take it’s popularity to another level by competing at the Rio Olympics in August. A compact season has seen ten back-to-back tournaments, from Wellington to France, where the Paris Sevens last week were a great prelude to London, always a large, colourful party.

It has been a hectic week for World Rugby too as they try to contain the ‘media frenzy’ that comes when Jarryd Hayne this week announced to the world that he had surprisingly left the National Football League (NFL) side the San Francisco 49er’s, to pursue a spot in the Olympics with his native country Fiji.

With Hayne’s inclusion to the Fiji team, television coverage of the game of sevens will go up to another level entirely, you can sense it after only just a few days. Hopefully the Australian and World media can ‘stop with their negativity’ and let the man play, as he will certainly put doubters to rest this weekend. It’s not about the money for him, but an Olympic dream.

Their is no other team in the world that plays the game of rugby sevens like Fiji does and getting a spot in that team is equivalent to a try-out with the All Blacks. You have to be the best and the ‘Hayne-Plane’ has taken up the challenge and enters the squad to the open arms of the players and coaches, and his countrymen and women. Ultimately, Fiji only needs to reach the quarter finals to retain their series crown but the Aussies and hosts all stand in their way in Pool play, while South Africa (if all goes their way) could realistically pip them if the stars align. And the Blitzboks have the star players to wrestle the cup away (see picture).

Championship aside, their is more at stake over this weekend too as teams will all soon know their pool for Rio [if qualified] from their final standings in the series so there is still all to play for. For the Portuguese, it is a battle for survival and a cup quarter final finish or higher is their only chance of overcoming Russia and to retain a place in the series next season. After this weekend, the last team in the series will be replaced by Japan  in 2016/2017

London Sevens: The LOWDOWN

Pool A (Samoa, South Africa, USA, Canada)

Samoa has been Fiji’s bogey team and last weekend they did just that after coming from behind to win the thriller at the Stade Jean Bouin to claim the Paris Sevens title. The Samoans are aiming for a spot in Rio and they will use this week to fine-tune their performance, as they head to that qualifier in Monaco.

Falemiga Selesele will be their go-to-man again as they strive for another good finish and will be helped with the presence of Ed Fidow, Tila Mealoi, Samoa Toloa and Alex Samoa who have been immense all season. Their replay of the quarter final in Paris with South Africa will be the one to watch.

South Africa has the outside chance of piping Fiji to the line if things go their way in London, but Neil Powell will be asking for more as they try to win only their second title of the season, their only win being in their home tournament in Cape Town in December. They have the players but they have to execute their structures very well to get that crucial win they are craving for.

United States (USA) are the defending London Sevens champions and will try to win their title back but really have to step up over this weekend. They can beat any team on their day, and like they did last year they could surprise everyone here to retain their Cup. Why, if Kenya and Samoa can defy the odds, why can’t they?

Mike Friday will be asking for commitment, dedication and show some passion to get them through this weekend, and like other teams, it is a final chance to prove your worth before Rio. Another code-switching athlete Nate Ebner (ex NFL) will be one of those to watch– can he and Hayne make it through? That’s the million dollar question.

Canada has had a disappointing season but with few quality players to choose from and their injury toll, who could blame them for not achieving very much but they have unearthed two sevens exponents that will be good for their game in many years to come, in Admir Cejanovic and Adam Zaruba.

Pool B (Fiji, Australia, England, Wales)

Fiji coach Ben Ryan has given ex-NFL and former NRL star Jarryd Hayne his debut tournament in London over the weekend, much to the delight of fans and non-fans of Sevens. A match against the Aussies will probably rake in the biggest TV audience in Australia to ever watch the a game of sevens, the level of interest there is in this recent news.

Hayne comes in for Toulon’s Josua Tuisova, while Masi Dakuwaqa and Viliame Mata come in for Leone Nakarawa and the injured Vatemo Ravouvou, while Pio Tuwai is rested again due to an ongoing injury concern. Hayne will slot in as the sides ‘rover position’ that has been a worry to Ryan, so with the attacking and defensive skills of Hayne, he is the perfect man for that position.

Australia have the toughest job in the world–that is to contain Fiji and hosts England this weekend–with the inclusion of six senior players including Pama Fou and Allan Fa’alavau, they have the team that can deliver that performance.

England has brought back the senior boys for this final round, with returnee Marcus Watson. They will be hard to stop at home. This will make Pool B the most interesting pool to watch, as you don’t want to count out the Welsh Scarlets. They should be able to turn up and spoil the party like they did in 2009 on their way to winning the Sevens World Cup, defying the odds. It will be up to Australia and Fiji to not ignore the dangers that surround them even before Sunday arrives.

Pool C (France, Kenya, Scotland, Portugal)

France will be led by Virimi Vakatawa who will captain Les Bleus this weekend, and they will aim higher then their third spot finish from Paris. Vakatawa has been immense for his adopted side and giving him the captaincy is a first for a foreign-born player in the French sevens team. It speaks volumes of how the nation have really trusted Vakatawa; who hails from the highlands, of Naitasiri, Fiji.

Damian Cler, Julien Candelon, Steve Barry, Stephen Perez and Raphael Lakafia will be the ones that need to demonstrate their worth and support Vakatawa for France to repeat their performance from the City Of Love.

Kenya was back to their usual poor attitude last week, they didn’t progress past the Cup quarters, let alone the plate semi finals and it’s this mentality that seems to always let them down. Brothers Collins Injera and Humphery Kayange, together with coach Benjamin Ayimba, have to drive into their players what consistency is all about because they are capable of greater things, like what they did in Singapore.

Scotland was really impressive last weekend and don’t be surprised if they spoil things for Kenya and France this weekend. The Scots will have plenty of ‘home support’ and the tartan clan will buoy their men over the two days of this 2016 London Sevens.

Portugal, as stated, has only one mission in sight. That is to fight for their survival–Aderito Estevez and Pedro Leal will have to fight the odds with their brave side to retain their core status.

Pool D (Argentina, New Zealand, Russia, Brazil)

Last week they brought back Santiago Cordero and Matias Moroni and this week, it’s Juan Imoff and if the Pumas want to reach another final, this group of players need to support their established players and ‘work as a team’ to finish on a high in London. Certainly they have the capabilities. Playing their structures well will reap the rewards for them, if Gomez Cora can motivate all 12 men to reach for the same prize.

The Kiwi side have recalled Tim Mikkelson into the leadership role, as last weekend the Kiwis were found wanting in the forwards. A lack of direction was clear and with ‘Captain Fantastic’ back, he brings with him stability and intuitive feel for the defensive line, which in all fairness Kurt Baker seriously lacks. With this sides injury toll, it’s the final chance for Sione Molia, Lewis Ormond, Teddy Stanaway and Regan Ware to push for their spots to Rio.

Sir Gordon Tietjens has brought with him the 16 men who he thinks will drive the side from London to the selection trials, so players who put their hands up now will be nearer to the top of any list ‘Titch’ carries around with him.

Russia; like Portugal, have to seal their place in the series for next season. As the Portuguese breath down their necks, they have played really well this season and Last Word On Sports will be sad to see them go next season [if the cards fall that way] and as for the invitational side Brazil, like last week, it is all about Olympics preparation. Still, they don’t want to make up the numbers.

Twickenham will be full early on Saturday morning, as the first match kicks-off at 9:30am when France take on Scotland in match number one.

The London Sevens will be a closely contested tournament, as it’s the final hit-out for most teams and they will make the most of the competition and atmosphere that the Sevens Series holds. With the inclusion of Jarryd Hayne in the Fiji team, the game of sevens will welcome new viewers and the improved global reach of the game will grow even further while the series is ‘for Fiji’s to lose’. Yes, the London Sevens title is still up for grabs, so the big question today is who might it be?

Follow all ‘the Lowdown’ of the London Sevens here on Last Word On Sports.

“Main photo credit”


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