"Every town was Paris, every day was Sunday, every month was May." - When Joanna Loved Me written by Robert Wells & Jack Segal, best sung by Tony Bennett.
Ah, Paris in May. What a tough gig to be on the Sevens World Series! We have a three day tourney on our hands starting with eight games on Friday night! Let's take a look at the pools...
POOL A: New Zealand, Kenya, Russia, Portugal
The Champions of Singapore are Kenya! The talk behind the scenes is about whether they can repeat their success. However, you won't get better circumstances in pool play than to have Russia & Portugal in your group in terms of making the Cup Quarters. That said, both of those teams will be in attendance as we say. They'll take advantage if you give them opportunities.
New Zealand will be without the services of DJ Forbes, Liam Messam, Tim Mikkelson & Scott Curry. Forbes & Mikkelson are on track to play next weekend in London while the others are a few more weeks away. Kurt Baker is the choice at Captain for Sir Gordon Tietjens and let's face it, he wasn't Knighted for making poor decisions. Baker is an exceptionally smart player who is in tremendous shape. The quintessential gym rat. Despite the lack of World Series experience, players such as Akira Ioane, Sonny Bill Williams & Regan Ware will be strong options for the men in black. Gillies Kaka leads the side with 28 events under his belt to Baker's 22 but pay no attention to the event numbers, New Zealand can easily win this tourney.
The Russians have a four point edge on Portugal in the relegation battle with two tourneys left. Who will Japan replace on tour?? Winning the game between the two should provide a matchup edge in the Bowl QF's if they both end up there as seems destined.
POOL B: Fiji, Wales, Samoa, Scotland
Fiji lead the World Series by eight points & should be favored to win the overall Series title again. They become especially scary when adding their European contingent into the squad including sevens superstar Samisoni Viriviri (Montauban), Toulon's threat Josua Tuisova as well as Leone Nakawara (Glasgow) & Waisea Nayacaleu (Stade Francais). That's a LOT of talent.
Wales have been a great story & Gareth Williams has to be right up there in the Coach of the Year rankings. Five Welsh players have been included in the TeamGB training roster including Luke Treharne, Luke Morgan & Sam Cross. All three will be in the Paris side. Coming off a rough Singapore effort (two tour points gained), they'll be looking to prove that their resurgence in form that saw them make the Cup Quarters in Vancouver & Hong Kong wasn't a fluke.
Samoa will have a lot to say about the fate of this pool as well. They've played close games recently with Wales (a 29-24 win in Wellington) and Scotland (a 19-14 loss in Hong Kong). The electric Samoa Toloa is perhaps the most underrated threat on tour, at least in terms of media attention. He's got 66 tries in 18 World Series events. Despite being 13 points behind the English in the standings for eighth place & the top half of the ladder, signs are that they may be the better side of late. With such tight margins & a relatively young side, learning to win & staying consistent is a tough task but the Samoans have the talent to do it. Even with Fiji here, this is a pool Samoa could win. They have the strength to do so.
Scotland got its share of TeamGB love as well when the team was released this week. Scott Riddell, Jamie Farndale, Mark Robertson (all in the Paris side) and Gavin Lowe made the cut. They've been consistent this season on tour, making the Bowl Final in five of eight tourneys (2-3 record), winning the Shield twice & qualifying for the Cup Semis in Vancouver.
POOL C: South Africa, England, Australia, Brazil
Pool of Death type stuff here on first glance but England have not matched up to their reputation this season, especially of late. In three of the last four World Series tourneys, England have failed to reach the Cup Quarterfinal stage. Meanwhile, the Aussies keep bringing through new, exciting players into the squad. Quade Cooper gave the team a big lift. 19 year old Henri Hutchison has shown speed as well as a lot of passion & heart in his first events on tour. And the Honey Badger's play speaks for itself...Nick Cummins is in the Paris side as well. Buckle up, France!
South Africa have been right on the edge of greatness most of the year but haven't won a tourney since their home event in Cape Town. Perhaps the returns of Rosko Specman & Worcester signee Francois Hougaard can change that. Hougaard adds a real top-notch physical element as well as having the pace to make things happen. I liked his game a lot when he was in the side earlier this season. If he can keep it up, he'll be a favorite to pickup an Olympic spot, 15's or not.
Brazil have been improving but don't have the players as yet to challenge more than one of these teams in pool play, if that.
POOL D: France, USA, Argentina, Canada
The USA have the threats to win any pool, even a challenging one such as this. Perry Baker's play speaks for itself while Madison Hughes & Zack Test are reliable try producers. Danny Barrett brings his physical edge every second while the gifted Thretton Palamo (Saracens) joins the squad as well. New England Patriot Nate Ebner is also back in after a rock solid performances in Hong Kong & Singapore. Honestly, his leadership element alone may make him worthy of selection as this group has struggled with consistency at the elite level of play they're capable of. Ebner may be the ribbon that wraps this present together.
Meanwhile, the hosts France were excellent in Singapore with Virimi Vakatawa back in the side, making the Cup quarters & knocking off New Zealand (24-0) & the US (19-17) before losing to eventual champions Kenya in the quarters. Now playmaker Terry Bouhraoua is back & the elements are in place for a deep French run at home.
Hoping to stand in their path and earn a QF berth as well will be Argentina. The Pumas won the Plate in Singapore and will have threats Matias Moroni (23 tries in 11 events) and Santiago Cordero (15 tries in 4 events) in the twelve for Paris. Combining that ability to find the try line with the power of Axel Muller & an aggressive defense is enough to prompt thoughts of an Argentine run to the semis or beyond as well.
Canada has a lot of experience but they've struggled with poor decisions and turnovers most of the way this year. Earlier this season, they may have been the favorite to snag the final Olympic spot in Monaco but that title looks to have been passed to the Samoans.
Cup QF setup:
1st A vs 2nd D
1st C vs 2nd B
1st D vs 2nd A
1st B vs 2nd C
The pool winners in B (Fiji/Samoa) look to have their hands full with either SA/AUS or perhaps ENG. Meanwhile, Pool D's qualifiers look to face Singapore's champion or a super talented New Zealand side. We could see a SA or AUS v NZ semi as well. How awesome would that be? Honestly, this is an anything could happen weekend. To make a decision, I like Fiji's chances especially if they get a favorable matchup vs. Argentina, who they've owned, in the semis.
Dan Mason - @Rugby_Global (Give us a follow!!)