Glasgow Sevens Recap – Fiji Rolls On
After a thrilling season, we enter the final stretch of the 2014–15 HSBC Sevens World Series. The first of the final two stops heads to Glasgow, Scotland. Although Scotland has been a stop on the series since 2007, this is the last scheduled tournament there. Next season, the series will skip across the channel to Paris, France. Though it might be the last hurrah for the Scotland Sevens, it promises to be a memorable one.
Through seven tournaments, the top three teams have managed to pull away from the pack. Leading the way is South Africa at 129 points, followed closely by Fiji at 125 and, still in striking distance, New Zealand at 120. In a distant fourth rests England, having recently overtaken Australia on the back of a tournament crown in Japan. Australian hopes of a top-four finish, and with it an automatic bid to the 2016 Olympic Games, fall nine points back at 91. In a distant sixth is a surprising USA team at 71 points. Though it seems highly unlikely that team USA can close the gap on Australia, if the Americans can hold on for a sixth-place finish, it will be, by a wide margin, their best finish on the series–the previous best was tenth.
As always, the pool draw is based upon recent results and can be lopsided as a result. The pool draw for Scotland:
|Pool A||Pool B||Pool C||Pool D|
Pool A is led by a red-hot England team. After a season of inconsistent performances, England broke through in Tokyo to claim the tournament crown and, due to a poor showing by Australia, rise into the top four in the series. Snagging the second seed is a French side that benefitted from a weak pool draw in Japan. Rounding out the pool are Australia and Russia. Australia is coming off a disappointing Japan Sevens in which the Aussies failed to reach the cup round for the first time this season. Ultimately, Australia fell to team USA in the bowl final. The fourth-seed Russia gets a chance to taste series play for the first time this season. This stop will act as a preview of what to expect next year when Russia takes its place as a core team on the series.
The top two teams out of pool A will almost certainly be England and Australia. But for a shocking loss to Portugal, Australia would have reached the cup round in Japan. Though a loss to Portugal looks bad, given that Portugal sits in 14th place, bear in mind that this is the same team that claimed a draw with New Zealand in Hong Kong. Although France reached the cup quarterfinal in Japan, it was the result of a weak pool. Both teams advancing from France’s pool failed to win a match on Day 2. Russia’s fate seems preordained. Each tournament has one non-core invitee. Thus far, the non-core invitees have yet to register a single win. While Russia is probably the most talented invitee of the season, the team should not be ready to claim a win on Day 1. The Russians may well rack up a win or two on Day 2, but should be expected as a safe bet to fall to the bowl competition. This leaves the top spot to be battled out between England and Australia. Based on recent form and the relative home-game nature of the tournament, England should enter as the favorite to top Pool A.
Pool B, by name recognition alone, is an obvious meat grinder. The pool is topped by two teams in the top three in the series standings: South Africa and New Zealand. Despite the historic success of Samoa and Kenya, this season has been unkind to the two sides. Day 1 in Scotland should be no different. Kenya, in the wake of tragedy, performed abysmally in Tokyo. Samoa, having reached the cup round in Hong Kong for the first time since reaching the finals in the season’s first tournament, returned to poorer form in Japan. As between these two sides, it is a coin toss to pick which will finish in third and which will finish in fourth–a result that should come down to who wins head-to-head in their final match of pool play. The same cannot be said for the top two teams. South Africa has looked in top form all season long. New Zealand, on the other hand, has suffered at least one historically bad match in each of the last two tournaments: a draw with Portugal in HK and a first ever loss to Canada in Japan. While New Zealand will be bent upon reviving the aura of invincibility, South Africa should expect a clean sweep in pool play.
Pool C is one of the more intriguing pools in the tournament. Fiji enters as the prohibitive favorite to run into the cup quarters, but the second team isn’t quite as clear. Portugal should be lucky to claim a third-place finish in the pool, but Scotland and Wales will both be looking to impress on British soil. Traditionally, the stops in Scotland and England have seen inspired performances out of the home nations sides. Nevertheless, a promising start to the season for Wales seems a distant memory for the one-time Sevens World Cup champions. Scotland, on the other hand, is not only at home but has produced considerably better results than their southern rivals. Additionally, Scotland has performed admirably in pool play at home in past tournaments. Last year, the Scots topped their pool with a clean sweep that included an upset of Australia. In 2010, the Scots did the same in a pool that included Fiji. The predicted outcome is Fiji to top the pool followed by Scotland, Wales, and Portugal respectively. Don’t be surprised if Scotland can edge Fiji or Portugal can nip Wales.
Pool D is easily the weakest pool in Glasgow. After a very disappointing season, Canada reached the cup round for the second time in three tournaments. On Day 2, Canadian history was made with a victory over New Zealand. In the cup semifinal, an in-form England relegated Canada to the third-place match, where the Canadians fell to Fiji 21-19. Despite the strong finish in Tokyo, Canada has not been an in-form team this year. The same can be said of the second seed Japan. The Japanese entered their home event having only once managed to win a match on Day 2. Japan was absolutely destined for relegation, a fate that still seems a near-certainty. Instead of lying down, team Japan rode a 1-1-1 pool record from a weak pool to a cup quarterfinal birth. Expect Japan to return to normal and be swept in pool play. The third and fourth seeded teams–team USA and Argentina–are each a serious threat to top the pool. The Americans should be the favorites to top Pool D. This season, the Eagles have posted a 4-0 record over Japan, 3-0 over Canada, and broken even (1-1) with Argentina. The tone for Glasgow should be set in the first match of the pool when the North American rivals face off. If team USA can take the win, the Eagles will be set to reach the cup round again after a disappointing day 1 in Japan.
The only change to team USA from the side that took the pitches in Hong Kong and Tokyo is the return of Martin Iosefo who replaces Nic Edwards. This side includes an impressive nine men who have been on the roster for every tournament this year. Only Iosefo, Mataiyasi Leuta, and Nate Auspurger have played in fewer than the seven tournaments to date. Coach Mike Friday has managed to find great consistency with his lineup and the leadership of Madison Hughes as the team’s captain. As a result, this year’s team is one of the most stable sides that we’ve ever seen. Joining Hughes in the every-tournament category are the all-time American try scoring leader, Zack Test, speedsters Carlin Isles and Perry Baker, heavy hitters Danny Barrett and Garret Bender, and the playmakers Folau Niua, Andrew Durutalo, and Maka Unufe. As important as each member of the core nine players has been, the absence of Folau Niua for six matches across Hong Kong and Japan illustrated his often-unheralded value. In the six matches without Folau–spanning cup round play in Hong Kong and pool play in Japan–the team posted a lowly 2-4 record. In the six matches with Folau–pool play in HK and bowl play in Japan–the team was undefeated (5-0-1).
With this lineup for team USA, the Americans should be the favorites to top Pool D. The winner of Canada-Argentina should decide the second seed. If Japan is any indicator, these predictions might be about as good as a weather forecast during an Irish winter. Still, the series is due for a return to normalcy, and the Scotland Sevens may well be the right time for that to occur.
The tournament gets underway Saturday (May 9) and concludes the following day before the series heads for its season finale in London the following weekend. Make sure to check back in for a full break down of all the excitement in Glasgow.