The London sevens preview - by Dan Mason

We've come to the final round of the Sevens World Series on the men's side this season & as of Sunday night, we'll have many questions answered. Who will be the Series Champion? Who will win the Cup in London? Can England finish the simple task of punching their ticket to Rio? Who will be relegated off the World Series?

 

With those questions in mind, let's take a gander at the World Series Standings heading into the tourney:

 

1. Fiji 147 points

2. South Africa 142

3. New Zealand 139

4. England 117

5. Australia 101

6. USA 86

7. Scotland 79

8. Argentina 73

9. Samoa 59

9. France 59

11. Canada 57

12. Wales 50

13. Kenya 38

14. Portugal 27

15. Japan 18

 

Fiji, South Africa & New Zealand all have hotel rooms booked in Rio for Summer 2016! England will join them if they finish as a Bowl Finalist or higher. Australia would need to win the tourney with 22 points & have England finish in the bowl semis (5 points) or lower to edge them out.

 

Portugal has a nine point margin over Japan in terms of having the last safe spot on the ladder. Japan needs to qualify for the Cup Quarterfinals & hope Portugal struggles on day one in order to have a shot at passing them.

 

Off we go to take a closer look at pool play!

 

POOL A: Fiji, Samoa, Canada, Argentina

The Fijians have been the class of the tour all year long, featuring a pressure packed defence & explosive ability on offence. Their offloading game is sensational and the man with the ball always seems to have support. They want both the Cup & the World Series trophy to head back to Suva with!

 

Canada lost their last match against all three teams in the pool, including a nine point defeat to the Pumas in Glasgow last weekend. After steamrolling the US & Japan on Saturday, Canada seemed to have used all their points for the weekend & lost close ones to Scotland & England on Sunday.

 

Samoa's squad is mostly inexperienced with half of the squad playing in five tour events or less. Being safe from relegation, London may be the perfect place to let the new talent get some games in. Tim Nanai-Williams is out of the squad for London.

 

Meanwhile, Argentina continues to waffle in terms of form. A draw vs. Japan was followed by a win over Canada & the Pumas lost the Bowl Final to Wales. Only once in their last five tourneys have Argentina made the Cup Quarterfinals.

 

The second spot in this pool is completely wide open. Canada should be slight favorites to get it on form but anything is possible.

 

 

POOL B: Australia, Wales, Japan & New Zealand

It's a long injury list for New Zealand coming out of Glasgow. 30 try man Joe Webber, the great Tim Mikkelson & Ambrose Curtis are out. Veteran Lote Raikabula, Declan O' Donnell & Issac Te Tamakai are in. The men in black are fortunate to have the like of Sherwin Stowers (96 tries), Gillies Kaka (47 tries) & Reiko Ioane (18 tries in five tourneys) as strike men. DJ Forbes (129) & Raikabula (107) both have more than 100 dot downs to their credit as well.

 

Australia have seemed to be one strike runner away from being an elite side this year. Pama Fou strikes fear in the heart of opposing defences but mostly, the Wallabies play a team game & are tactically strong. They can generate multiple phases and grind teams into submission. Also, their ruck skills are up there with any side on tour.

 

Wales finally have a bit of stability in the squad & the likes of Luke Morgan & Kristian Phillips have taken advantage. Wales won the Bowl in Glasgow and will be looking to take the next step & crack the top eight. Their defensive formations have been easily broken at times such as their first match vs. Fiji last Saturday. However, the side only permitted twelve total points on day two vs. France, Argentina & Samoa. Any side would be proud of that record.

 

If Japan are relegated, their lack of offensive threat options will be a main cause. Even with Lote Tuqiri in the lineup in Scotland, the Brave Blossoms only generated five tries in five games. Simply put, that isn't good enough for this level. The matchups with New Zealand and Wales have blowout written all over them and Australia seem too powerful up front & miles better tactically.

 

 

POOL C: England, Scotland, Brazil, Kenya

England vs. Scotland is set to be a classic battle as usual, especially with England at home & Scotland's sevens side spared the axe by their Board. The English have dominated the series between the two, going 27-4. The last Scottish win over their rivals was in March of 2013 in Hong Kong.

 

The Kenyans seem to be the only threat to a 1-2 battle for pool supremacy between the English & Scots. Kenya has struggled to finish offensive possessions of late. They scored five tries vs. Samoa and five in their other four matches combined. The Kenyans had the Argentines on the back foot early, only to forfeit possession which the Pumas turned into a 24-7 win. If Kenya can maintain ball & finish plays, they could easily duplicate their win over the Scots earlier this season in Wellington. Either way, New Zealand as winner of Pool B would fancy their chances against the Pool C runner-up.

 

Brazil would be a solid side on a second division tour but are outmatched by the pace & power of their opponents on the World Series.

 

 

POOL D: USA, France, Portugal & South Africa

The South Africans have made one significant change to their twelve. Cecil Afrika is out due to injury & is replaced by Justin Geduld, now fully fit himself. Series leading try scorer Seabelo Senatla got some help from Rosko Specman last week and will need Geduld to be at the form that made him one of the Series' top players in 2013-14 in order to diversify the attack & keep opponents guessing.

 

The Americans are well up the ladder from this time last year. Coach Mike Friday has more than stabilized the program, he's turned them into a legitimate threat to any side on tour. With speed merchants Perry Baker & Carlin Isles, the Eagles have the top two burners in the Series. Fellow try scoring threat Zach Test is in the twelve after a knee injury in Glasgow threatened that status.

 

France & Portugal have been battling for consistency of late, to be kind. With Les Bleus still without Virimi Vakatawa, their squad will be pressed for game-breaking options in attack. The French averaged just under 12 points a game in Scotland without Vakatawa. Portugal has their star back in Aderito Esteves but even his presence couldn't keep them from a 1-5 weekend, only edging the Russians in Glasgow.

 

 

Quarters & beyond: England will be in great shape, having sealed an Olympic ticket on Day One and having home momentum for Day Two. Fiji's pool should challenge them physically but I'd be shocked if they didn't pass through. Fiji should have too much for the US & face England in the semis. In the other semi, a New Zealand - South Africa encounter looks to be on the cards. I'll take the USA to win the Plate Final & Fiji to win the Cup decisively over the Blitzbokke, 33-12.