The stage is set, with all of World Rugby’s eyes firmly on the ‘True Mecca of All Sevens Tournaments’. The Hong Kong Sevens is the pre-eminent tournament, and leg seven of the ten round HSBC Sevens Series.
And with it also being an official 2017/18 Sevens Series Qualifier tournament as well, there are 28 teams competing on So Kon Po Stadium. That will bring a full-on weekend of action. More than enough to satisfy the thirst, of this rapidly growing sport.
The standings see the strong South African side hold one of the most commanding points leads, in World Series history. But it is not over yet. At any sevens series competition, motivation and desire are integral ingredients–so the team who is focused, will perform.
Fiji Chase Hatrick In Hong Kong
In looking back at the history of the event, one team has had success. So much success in fact, they appear near unbeatable. Only near, not completely. So in chasing a third consecutive victory, it will mean they have won ‘a hatrick of three-peats’. In other words, they are seeking history, plus their first tournament win of 2016/17.
— World Rugby Sevens (@WorldRugby7s) March 28, 2017
The balance of sides will know that the Fijians are the toughest side to beat in Hong Kong. As are New Zealand, so for all 16 sides, they focus on their Pool first….and Fiji next.
The fixture list shows the full calendar, so for fans at the iconic stadium, watching the ‘livestream’ or on local coverage, it will be a great three days. So, here is the LOWDOWN on all the competing teams.
Pool A – England, Australia, Samoa, South Korea
The English have made only one change from the team that won in Vancouver. Ollie Lindsay-Hague returns in place for Alex Davis who is continuing his rehabilitation from his knee injury. Like Fiji and New Zealand, the English are at home when it comes to Hong Kong and they will be hard to beat.
Simon Amor is hoping for another good outing especially from his senior players in Tom Mitchell, Dan Norton (see below) and James Rodwell.
— Sky Sports Rugby ? (@SkySportsRugby) April 6, 2017
English squad: Dan Bibby, Tom Bowen, Phil Burgess, Richard De Carpentier, Charlie Hayter, Charlton Kerr, Olli LindsayHague, Ruaridh McConnochie, Tom Mitchell, Dan Norton, James Rodwell, Ethan Waddleton.
The Australians have added experience to the squad in Hong Kong, welcoming back five players who can make a real difference. Ed Jenkins will raking up his 50th tournament, with Jesse Parahi, Boyd Killingworth, Charlie Taylor and John Porch, all returning from injury. Porch was hurt in the Oceania Sevens in Suva last November.
They will add depth to the side with rookies Tim Anstee and Lachie Anderson hoping to continue their fine form. Simon Kennewell also returns to add an extra dimension to their playmaking options. The Aussies will test the English resolve to another level this weekend.
Australian squad: Henry Hutchison, Jesse Parahi, Nick Malouf, Liam McNamara, James Stannard, John Porch, Tim Anstee, Boyd Killingworth, Ed Jenkins, Tom Lucas, Charlie Taylor, Lachie Anderson, Simon Kennewell
Falemiga Selesele returns after missing Vancouver Sevens and replaces Afa Aiono. Tomasi Alosio and Alatasi Tupou return, to add depth to the side. Tila Mealoi and Alex Samoa will also provide that much needed go forward ball.
Samoan squad: Gordon Langkilde, Falemiga Selesele, Alamada Motuga, Lafaele Va’a, Savelio Ropati, Daniel Kayes, Alatasi Tupou, Tomasi Alosio, Tila Mealoi, Samoa Toloa, Joe Perez, Alex Samoa, Siaosi Asofolau.
South Korea is looking for experience here. They have beaten some of the best teams in Hong Kong in the past, showing the precision that the Korean people are known for. Using the tournament as a rebuilding phase, playing among the leading nations is a golden opportunity.
South Korean squad: Andre Jin Coquillard, Daehwan Kim, Jihoon You, Jinhwan Kim, Jin-hyeok Kim, Jaebok Lee, Sungjong Hong, Sekgyun Lee, Gumin Han, Jeonghwan Lee, Lim Jonghyoung, Jeong Jeong.
Pool B – South Africa, Canada, Kenya, France
The series leaders chase their first ever series title. After the blazing first half of the season, all it will take is to ‘complete the task’. The only drawback in Hong Kong is player fitness. Already without Kwagga Smith and Seabelo Senatla, they will now be missing Justin Geduld and Rosko Speckman through injuries too. Coach Neil Powell (below) will need to have solid strategies in place this weekend.
— Springbok Sevens (@Blitzboks) April 5, 2017
Knowing that, Branco Du Preez and Cecil Afrika will shoulder the playmaking role while introducing rookie Selvyn Davids. Tim Agaba comes in for Stephan Dippenaar while Zain Davids, Stedman Gans and Ryan Oosthuizen continue their transition upto the World Series.
Bitzboks squad: Chris Dry, Philip Snyman, Dylan Sage, Zain Davids, Werner Kok, Siwive Soyizwapi, Branco Du Preez, Tim Agaba, Selvyn Davids, Cecil Afrika, Stedman Gans, Ruhan Nel, Ryan Oosthuizen.
Known for their pace and attacking venom, even All Black Sonny Bill Williams will never forget his encounter with Dennis ‘The Ghost’ Ombachi. The man who famously ran through SBW like a plowing tractor, and it is men like Ombachi who help Kenya retain that fear factor. He brings experience to the team, to compliment Collins Injera, Andrew Amonde and Willy Ambaka.
However, the three musketeers in Samuel Oilech, Bush Mwale and Nelson Oyoo are the ones that you should be watching closely this weekend. They could be rookies to the game but have adapted well, and will give the French and Blitzboks a tough day at the office at the Hong Kong Sevens.
Kenyan squad: Andrew Amonde, Willy Ambaka, Eden Agero, Frank Wanyama, Derrick Mayar, Samuel Oilech, Dennis Ombachi, Brian Taga, Daniel Sikuta, Bush Mwale, Augustine Lugonzo, Collins Injera, Nelson Oyoo.
He is back! Virimi Vakatawa will light up So Kon Po Stadium with his skill and sevens proficiency, that will leave commentators in awe. The man who thrives in all forms of the game that he is involved in–from the XV’s code, to sevens–he never ceases to amaze. And with France literally in the ‘Pool of Death’ it can only bring out the best in him.
Bastian Berenquel has really grown into the game, with Jeremy Aicardi playing some of his best footy in a long, long while. France may be inconsistent, but with Vakatawa around, now anything is possible.
French squad: Jeremy Aicardi, Bastian Berenquel, Terry Bouhraoua, Julien Candelon, Manoel Dall,Igna, Vincent Inigo, Alexandre Lagarde, Pieere Gilles Lakafia, Jonathan Laugel,Jean Baptise Mazoue, Stephen Parez, Virimi Vakatawa, Sacha Valleau.
The Canadians are playing some good footy this season and will try to continue that here in Hong Kong. Damian McGrath has brought in a new sense of purpose for the Maple Leafs and they will try to go even further this weekend. Justin Douglas will be the one to watch, with the highly talented Harry Jones and Mike Fualeifau.
Nathan Hirayama reaches his 50th cap [tournaments[ which is a huge achievement.
— Philip Mack (@phillymack07) April 6, 2017
Canadian squad: Luke Bradley, Tevauhgan Campbell, Jared Douglas, Justin Douglas, Mike Fualeifau, Lucas Hammond, Nathan Hirayama, Harry Jones, Isaac Kay, Pat Kay, Luke McCloskey, John Moonlight, Josiah Morra, Matt Mullins.
Pool C – Fiji, New Zealand, Wales, Japan
The Fijians love Hong Kong; the players, fans at home and supporters at the ground. And like always, they will be hard to beat as the side seek their third ‘triple crown’ in So Kon Po. With such a strong pedigree, the odds will weigh toward the men from the South Seas.
This weekend also coincides with Palm Sunday in Fiji, and if history is anything to go by, the highly religious Fijian players thrive on this day. That gives them that extra motivation and in a sport where your belief in yourself and your team mates is paramount, faith is a vital element.
In 2017, former head coach Ben Ryan and Semi Kunatani are not here, so that does count against them. Only just holding their third place overall, with three runners-up finishes, it will take a big effort. But if anything, Fiji have the depth to succeed.
Fijian squad: Mesulame Kunavula, Kalione Nasoko, Setareki Bituniyata, Jasa Veremalua, Apisai Domolailai, SevuloniMocenacagi, Jerry Tuwai, Waisea Nacuqu, Amenoni Nasilasila, Vatemo Ravouvou, Osea Kolinisau, Joeli Lutumailagi, Nacanieli Labalaba and Isake Katonibau.
The Kiwis will be trying to spoil the party for Fiji this weekend. They have brought in another Fijian to debut–Joe Ravouvou. He has been active with Auckland Sevens over the past few seasons, and maybe one of the new finds for the All Black Sevens.
The return of Scott Dickson will be a positive, overcoming his knee injury but with every tournament the Kiwis continue to improve. A top four finish will be the key for them moving past the disappointment of the last 12 months.
Kiwi Squad: Scott Curry, Dylan Coolier, DJ Forbes, Iopu Iopu Aso, Trael Joas, Vilimoni Koroi, Tim Mikkelson, Sione Molia, Joe Ravouvou, Isaac Te Tamaki, Beaudein Waaka, Regan Ware, Sam Dickson.
The Scarlets head coach has roped in Welsh Under 20 star Jared Rosser to bolster his squad. He has also brought back Morgan Williams, who scored three tries against Fiji in Sydney. The Welsh were victorious that day and will be going all out to test the mantle of the Fijians and Kiwis this weekend.
— Jack Megaw (@jackmegawphoto) March 12, 2017
Luke Treharne, Sam Cross, Luke Morgan; together with Cory Allen and Ben Roach, all need to be on their best this weekend, to finish in the top eight. Do that, and the Dragon will be breathing fire on the Sevens field again.
Welsh squad: Sam Cross, Adam Thomas, James Benjamin, Lloyd Evans, Owen Jenkins, Luke Treharne, Ethan Davies, Morgan Williams, Cory Allen, Jared Rosser, Ben Roach, Luke Morgan.
The Damian Karauna coached side can beat any team on their day, and with Kameli Soejima in the team anything can happen. Katsuyuki Sakai adds speed and leadership, with Patrick Stehlin the muscle.
Jone Naikabula–yes another Fijian–will debut, adding a new dimension to this unpredictable side in 2017.
Japanese squad: Yoshiaki Tsurugasaki, Dallas Tatana, Kameli Soejima, Jinmoon Han, Patrick Stehlin, Dai Ozawa, Katsuyuki Sakai, Rikiya Oishi, Jone Naikabula, Kosuke Hashino, Masahiro Nakano, Sioasifa Lisala, Hironori Natomi.
Pool D – United States, Argentina, Scotland, Russia
Mike Teo’o has been brought in to bolster the Eagles squad, as they try to continue their ‘hot form’ in the latest Northern American legs. They finished third in their home tournament in Las Vegas, while they only narrowly lost to Fiji in Vancouver to finish fourth.
Perry Baker is in the prime of his game, with Danny Barett and Andrew Durutalo each bringing their ‘A game’. Maka Unufe and super-sub Martin Iosefo add dimension, with Ben Pinkelman and rookie Stephen Tomasin complementing the experienced Madison Hughes and Folau Niua.
The Lowdown says “Be wary of the Americans, as they pose the biggest threat this weekend.”
Team USA squad: Anthony Welmers, Ben Pinkelman, Danny Barett, Matai Leuta, Mike Teo’o, Andrew Durutalo, Folau Niua, Maka Unufe, Stephen Tomasin, Madison Hughes, Perry Baker, Martin Iosefo, Marlon Al Jiboori.
Los Pumas have roped in three changes to their team, heading to Hong Kong. German Schulz, Lautaro Bazan Velez and Santiago Alvarez all return after their duties with the Argentina XV, in the Americas Rugby Championship. Playmaker Bautista Delguy and Luis Gonzalez have been released to join the U20 tour in New Zealand while Joaquin Rira is rested.
The young guns who coach Santiago Gomez Cora has really shown faith in, have proven their worth; especially Mataias Osadczuk. The leadership qualities of Gaston Revol boasted with the return of Schulz and senior players in Fernando Luna, together with Franco Sabato and Javier Rosa, will all add depth to the team.
However, consistency and urgency will be what they need the most on both days, to put in a strong challenge. Vamos Pumas!
Los Pumas squad: Santiago Alvarez, Renzo Barbier, Jose Barros Sosa, Lautaro Bazan Velez, Lucas Bellotto, Felipe Del Mestre, Fernando Luna, Nicolas Menendez, Mataias Osadczuk, Gaston Revol, Javier Rojas, Franco Sabato, German Sculz.
The Bravehearts from Scotland are seeking redemption, and the Asian leg offers them that—leading up to London, where they wish to defend their crown. They can be ruthless when needed, but consistency is needed most. Dougie Fife and James Fleming have been phenomenal,0 together with Mark Robertson, Joe Nayacavou and Jamie Farndale.
— Scottish Rugby (@Scotlandteam) April 6, 2017
Scottish squad: Grayson Hart, Dougie Fife, Alastair Miller, Darcy Graham, Blair Kinghorn, Mark Robertson, Jamie Farndale, Joe Nayacavou, Hugh Blake, Scott Wight, James Fleming, Sam Beattie, Robbie Nairn.
The Russians welcome back their stalwart Vladmir Ostronshko in Hong Kong. He brings the X-factor that is needed desperately by the side. German Davydov has been carving up the DHL Performance Tracker standings with his performances, and with Ostronshko, they will go even further. Ilya Babaev, Vladislav Sozonov and Eduard Filatov will be men to watch over the next few days.
Who knows….a little ‘Russian roulette’ to spice up the series might be called for, among the huge crowds of Hong Kong.
Russian squad: Vladamir Ostronshko, Stanislav Bondarev, Vladislav Sozonov, Vladislav Lazarenko, Alexey Kapalin, Vitaly Zhivatov, Eduard Filatov, Dmityr Sukhin, Yury Gostyuzhev, Ilya Babaev, Ivan Kotov, German Davydov, Timur Urazakov.
This is a crucial stage for all teams. From the leaders; who all want to catch South Africa. Win, and hope the Blitzbok do not reach the Cup semi finals, is the only way to bridge that huge gap (see below).
— SuperSport (@SuperSportTV) April 6, 2017
For the rest, they must jump above the ‘danger zone’. The bottom two teams are not safe, so advancing into Sunday is everyone’s goal.
Join Last Word On Rugby, as we follow all three day’s again at the Hong Kong Sevens–the Mecca of all Sevens Tournaments.
“Main photo credit”