Well, I said anything could happen last week in Paris...and it did! Samoa roared back from a big halftime deficit to overtake Fiji & win the Paris 7's! With London being the last tourney of the Series & the last with all the major sides before the Olympic Games, expect more unpredictability due to tired bodies & a bit of lineup experiementation before Rio. Let's take a peek at the pools...
POOL A: Samoa, USA, South Africa, Canada
While Samoa had their breakthrough weekend in Paris, the US struggled for three days, gaining only five standings points in the process. They looked out of sorts, barely beating wooden spoon holders Portugal in the Bowl Semis before losing to Scotland 14-12 to end their misery. Still no Carlin Isles & Nate Ebner is out as Ben Leatigaga gets an opportunity. Canada isn't in any better shape as they lost to the Americans 33-12 last weekend. The Canadians will be looking to find some footing before Monaco's Global Olympic Repechage Tourney decides the last berth for Rio 2016. At the moment, the Samoans seem to be favorites to take that ticket to Brazil. We'll get a dramatic representation of where Canada & Samoa stand in this pool meeting. Meanwhile, a hungry South African side has most likely seen their World Series Title hopes slip away but are primed to win one last tourney to make a statement. Seabelo Senatla leads the tour in tries with 64 (20 more than Perry Baker in second place). He'll still be the dominant force in this pool in London.
POOL B: Fiji, Australia, Wales, England
Well, we knew the Olympics would make things interesting. Fiji 7's have brought in Rugby League star Jarrad Hayne and he'll be in the twelve for London! Despite what would be a heartbreaking loss in the Paris Final, the news cycle this week has been all about positive vibes for Fiji thanks to Hayne's arrival. And on top of that, a trip to the Cup Quarterfinals will clinch the 2015-16 World Series Title for the Fijians. Any hopes the other pool sides had of a Fijian letdown after Paris have probably faded, at least until Fiji earn two pool wins.
That said, the Aussies will finish this tour in fourth place & are a very strong side. Pama Fou will wear the #11 jersey & rookie Henry Hutchison remains a massive threat (22 tries in just six Series events). Wales & England fans will surely be thankful that they'll play Rio 2016 as Team GB and not the slumping sides that appear in this pool. Scotland crushed the old enemy wearing the rose, 28-10 in the Bowl Final & Wales have earned four standings points in the last two Series events. Ugh. Look for Fiji & Australia to take care of business & advance.
POOL C: France, Kenya, Portugal, Scotland
France had a strong Paris 7's, advancing to the semis before being outmatched by Fiji. Their team is rounding into form & will be led by Virimi Vakatawa this weekend as Terry Bourahoua sits the weekend out. Four of the French 12 will have less than four events of experience, which could make this pool interesting. They'll face strong competition in a very experienced Kenya side. The Africans have made the Cup Quarters in seven of the last eight tour events, showing that their form is consistently strong...especially with the Cup victory in Singapore. Remember, this Kenyan side had to qualify for Rio on the last play of the game versus Zimbabwe..and look what they've done on tour! Also, Collins Injera of Kenya can break the all-time try scoring record on tour with four tries this weekend in London! Santiago Gomez Cora has the all-time record with 230. Meanwhile, Scotland would love to fix the small errors that have been just enough to keep them out of said Cup Quarterfinals in many of this year's tourneys. Despite a heavy loss to Fiji, they lost to eventual champs Samoa by five & beat the US on Day Three. Finally, Portugal are six points down to Russia & would need a big weekend to avoid relegation. Despite scaring Kenya to kick the weekend off and winning the Shield in Paris, such things don't make enough hay to keep you on tour.
POOL D: New Zealand, Argentina, Russia, Brazil
Argentina won fourth place in Paris, knocking New Zealand out of the quarterfinals before losing their final two matches. Their two point loss to Samoa in the semis must have them wondering what might have been last weekend. However, the beat goes on and the All Black 7's will be looking to avenge that defeat in short order! Despite their relative inexperience on tour, New Zealand's developing players have a lot to offer. Regan Ware & Lewis Ormond would be welcome on any side and while names like Williams & Ioane get a lot of attention, players like Ware & Ormond have been making strong cases for inclusion into the Rio Olympic side. Russia & Brazil seem destined for the Bowl Quarters. For the Russians, they have the odds in their favor of earning a ticket for the 2016-17 World Series as they make their own preparations for the Olympic Repechage tourney.
Cup Quarters & beyond...
Am going with my gut here & am taking South Africa to win in London. Here are the matchups for the quarters:
1st Pool A vs. 2nd Pool D
1st Pool C vs. 2nd Pool B
1st Pool B vs. 2nd Pool C
1st Pool D vs. 2nd Pool A
Potentially, if SA & Fiji win their groups, the Blitzboks would have a Fiji clear path to the finals. No matter what happens, the shadow of the Rio Olympic 7's is all over this last tour stop. It's exciting, isn't it??
by Dan Mason - @Rugby_Global