HSBC Paris Sevens: Fiji Hunts Down Series Leading South Africa

HSBC Paris Sevens - Day 3
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It’s the penultimate round of the World Rugby Sevens Series, and we head to the ‘City Of Love’. The HSBC Paris Sevens will be held at the Stade Jean Bouin in Paris from May 13-14. Defending series champ Fiji will try to hunt down series leaders South Africa, in a quest to retain their 2016 title while the underdogs continue to threaten the leading sides.

Canada defied the odds when they won in Singapore three weeks ago, with other underdogs like United States and Australia continuing to ask questions of the ‘Big guns ‘. The tide is shifting, competition is increasing, and the gap in knowledge is narrowing as the game continues to evolve. For all core teams, this is now a full time focus, so it is Destination Sevens for the 16 teams competing this weekend.

The French are celebrating the election of their new President Emmanuel Macron. Not only is the 39 year old–France’s youngest ever President-defeating the favorite Marine Le Pen. So it proves, that anything can happen in the City Of Love, ‘Expect the unexpected’ like Samoa (see above) who last season came from behind, to overcome the tired Fiji side. A massive result in Paris, so throw away the script and brace yourself for some mouth watering sevens rugby.

Paris Sevens: The Lowdown

Pool A – Canada, South Africa, Scotland, Japan.

The Canadians are on a high after their win in Singapore. Coach Damian McGrath; who won here last year with Samoa, has only made one change–but it is a big one. Recalling big Adam Zaruba to bolster the side, he will take a lot of stopping this weekend. Consistency has always been their Achilles heel though, so the Maple Leafs will be trying to rectify that here in Paris.

While, some might say that their victory in Singapore was helped by the injury toll on the big boys, it doesn’t take away the fact that they fronted-up when it mattered. McGrath has worked out a way to bring out the best in the Canadians during his first season, and this could only be the tip of the iceberg. Unlike, the big boys they are close knit group. Like their women’s team, not threatened by Super Rugby contractd or other major rugby objectives. They can keep their core side near full strength, until the Commonwealth Games and upcoming Sevens Rugby World Cup next season.

Justin Douglas will be their go forward man, with John Moonlight and Adam Zaruba to unleash good ball for Nathan Hirayama to maximize. If Hirayama gets his game going like he did in Singapore, then he can put Luke McCloskey and Harry Jones into space. Plus, with Matt Mullin and Mike Falefau providing the x-factor, their battle against Scotland and Japan is crucial to their Paris Sevens campaign.

South Africa Must Regain Their Mojo

The series leaders are 25 points ahead of Fiji going into these final rounds of Paris and London. If they reach the semifinals in Paris, then it’s signed, sealed and delivered for the Blitzboks 2017 title. Mind you, they have somehow gone on a downward spiral after Kwagga Smith and Seabelo Senatla left to join Super Rugby. Add to that, Rosko Specman joined the wounded list, it was hard-times. However, they still lead and look good to wrap this up, because Fiji has an Achilles heel when it comes to consecutive weekend triumphs. Never winning two in a row, it is a fault that the Olympic winners must curtail.

Returning from injury, Specman will add spark again to the squad, with Werner Kok and Cecil Afrika key members. Their forwards are their biggest weapon, so if they keep it together they will wrap the series up this weekend.

Scotland has always fared well at the end of the series, and next week they defend their London title. At this end of the season, this is their last chance to put things together, before going into Twickenham.  Dougie  Fife, Jamie Farndale, Mark Robertson will need to be on-song. Together with James Fleming and Joe Nayacavou, who has to step up big time. They need to provide good ball for youngsters like Grayson Hart, George Horne and Hugh Blake to capitalize on.

The Japanese boys have only one mission–that is to finish higher than Russia in the standings. Katsuyuki Sakai will play a major role, together with their Pacifica trio in Kameli Soejima, Jone Naikabula and Siosifa Lisala. Big Kiwi boys Patrick Stehlin and Dallas Tatana should provide quality set-up ball, to then unleash the playmakers.

Pool B – United States, New Zealand, Wales, Argentina

This could be one of the toughest pools here in Paris, and with bragging points up for grabs this round, teams will go ‘all out’. United States continue to threaten the big guns in every tournament–and could be counted as a ‘gun side’ themselves–and it won’t be any different in the penultimate Sevens Series leg.

New Zealand is banking on their senior players for their first win of the year, or this season could go down in history as ‘the series they achieved zero growth’. Lewis Ormond and Joe Webber will provide the x-factor, with debutant Fa’asiu Fuatai set to dazzle. Injuries have crept back into the squad, with skipper Scott Curry, Dylan Coolier and Joe Ravouvou joining the injury list. In one of the more interesting calls, super-talent Vilimoni Koroi has been called up for Provincial duties (poor timing, but possibly a long term strategy).

Wales are unpredictable at the most, they always show that they are ‘up for it’ but such inconsistency is why they continue to linger in the middle of table. They have the players, the technical know how and stars like Corey Allen, Sam Cross together with Luke Morgan and Luke Treharne to call on. It is just in the application.

The Los Pumas Sevens side has only themselves to blame for their ‘yoyo’ season. Injuries and international duties might have contributed but showing up when they needed the most is their biggest downfall. Very inconsistent this season and if they want to make it out of the group they have to dig deep and find the Puma fighting spirit to regain credibility this weekend.

Pool C – England, Kenya, France, Spain

The English can overtake Fiji if they do well the next two weekends, but they need consistency. Dan Norton is playing some terrific rugby–his best in a long while, and they need to capitalize on that.

Players like James Rodwell and Phil Burgess have to show more determination to help out the likes of Dan Bibby and Charlie Hayter to break the lines. Once they have teams on the back foot, smart players like Oliver Lindsay-Hague and Ruaridh McConnochie can pounce like a Lion.

Kenya was robbed in Singapore [literally] by some dubious referee calls which cost them in the game against England. Redemption couldn’t come any sooner, as they will battle again here in Paris. The Africans will know their weakness, and when they do address that they can again be unstoppable, as they have firepower all around the park.

French Sevens Legend Pulls Pin on Career

Julian Candelon will retire after the HSBC Paris Sevens and what better way to farewell the legend of French 7’s by winning their own tourney. They have recalled their kingpin! The crowd favorite Virimi Vakatawa, to dazzle the Parisian crowd. President Macron could be the new French heartthrob outside the grounds, but inside it’s the South Sea Islander Vatakawa. His combination with Jean Pascal Barraque and Bastien Berenquel will be worth the watch.

The Spaniards are re-acclimatizing in this round, getting the feel of it again for next season. We won’t expect much from them, but they can really ‘rattle feathers’ when they want to. Coach Pablo Feijoo knows the World Series environment, and what is needed. Expect to see them test their Pool opponents on Day One.

Pool D – Australia, Fiji, Samoa, Russia

With all the ongoing problems with the Australian Rugby Union, one team continues to impress; their sevens team. Their women’s side might be losing some edge for now but the boys are improving by the day. Youngsters like Tim Anstee, Lachie Anderson and Liam McNamara continue to dazzle us. They have so much understanding for the game at such a young age. Many are saying the future looks bright for them. If only the ARU could invest more in their grassroots rugby rather than recruiting from rugby league.

The Aussies will test Fiji’s mantle and they will also be aware of the Samoans–who will go out to defend their title.

The defending series champions have named four new debutants, with at least two making the cut here in the City of Love. The Fijians suffered a major blow this week when Olympian Masivesi Dakuwaqa signed for the Canberra Raiders Rugby League Club in Australia. However, they have what could be the ‘next big thing’ in Fiji Sevens: Samu Bale. Watch this young rover closely, as he struts his stuff in Paris. Possibly, the Fijians have found the missing link in the backline.

They are chasing consecutive wins to hunt down South Africa on the table, and it’s possible because “hey, it’s Fiji”. On the other hand, the Samoans will be very brave together with the Aussies to challenge them to it.

Faalemiga Selesele of Samoa is tackled during the Emirates Dubai Rugby Sevens – HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series at The Sevens Stadium on December 5, 2015 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Francois Nel/Getty Images)

Samoa are the defending champs, and with Sir Gordon Titjens they could certainly retain their title. They have named a good side, with Falemiga Selesele to lead. Tomasi Alosio, Tila Mealoi together with Samoa Toloa and Alatasi Tupou should all know they have to perform strongly to stand a chance. George Langkilde will be their ‘go to man’ this weekend.

Who Will Reign After the Hooter Sounds in Paris?

This will be the question on everyone’s mind. No longer can we confidently say its Fiji, New Zealand or South Africa. The tide is shifting, the game is evolving, new stars are born, the best will last.

The HSBC Paris Sevens tournament is up for grabs, it is anyone’s for the taking. But as a South Sea Islander, my heart will go with any team from Oceania taking this one out. However, the fans crave for another underdog to win, to keep the game alive. For a Samoa victory, a Kenya or on the other hand, the perfect fairy tale end to Julien Candelon’s career isn’t a bad notion either.

Viva Les Bleus.


The HSBC Paris Sevens kicks-off Saturday May 13-14.

“Main photo credit”