Can anyone stop the All Blacks? Rupert Cox looks at the contenders for the Glasgow HSBC Sevens World Series
Last Updated: 02/05/14 10:19am
DJ Forbes: looking to lead New Zealand to another title
Just two rounds to play on the HSBC Sevens World Series and as the teams prepare to do battle in Glasgow the big question is: can South Africa reel in the All Blacks?
The series leaders have been neck and neck for most of the season - but after a dominant Cup final win against England in Hong Kong - New Zealand are now seven points clear at the top of the overall standings and in pole position to collect what would be a remarkable 12th Series title.
England knocked South Africa out in the quarter finals in Hong Kong which means the Blitzbokke do not arrive in Glasgow as one of the top four seeds. As a result, Neil Powell's men have been picked alongside NZ in a tough looking Pool A that also includes Samoa and Portugal. But what looks like a difficult draw could prove to be a godsend for the Springbok 7s. If they can beat the All Blacks in pool play and qualify for the last eight as top seeds - they could be on the way to picking up more points and setting up a fantastic final-round shootout in London next weekend.
So how do the top four shape up?
New Zealand have dominated this Series for so long it's almost getting boring. Well not really but it's been great to see South Africa, and Fiji at times this season, posing a genuine challenge to the All Blacks. But it seems that whoever Sir Gordon Tietjens brings into his side, they hardly skip a beat, and remain the team to beat every event on the circuit they pitch up at. And the stats tell the story - The All Black Sevens score the most tries per game, concede the least and win the most turnovers. Their talisman and captain DJ Forbes' performance against England in the Hong Kong cup final was nothing short of inspirational.
South Africa have it all to do but will have to make do without THEIR captain fantastic Kyle Brown, who withdrew late from the Glasgow 7s with concussion. They are also without Cecil Afrika - the former IRB 7s Player of the Year seems to be struggling with injury on a regular basis these days. The good news is tht Chris Dry has been passed fit and in the irrepressible Frankie Horne, they posess one of the most durable and well-respected players on the tour. The Blitzbokke direct approach (they pass the ball less than any other team on the circuit) may be quite well suited to what could be a heavy pitch at Scotstoun Stadium. A win for South Africa in Glasgow will set up a great finish in London next week.
Fiji are, well, Fiji! Completely unplayable in one game - and almost unrecognisable the next. Their performance in Dubai back in November was nothing short of brilliant. But England almost shadowed them into submission in the Hong Kong semi-final and the ball-playing islanders looked a bit at sea - unsure how to approach the passive defence that Simon Amor's boys so expertly employed. But Ben Ryan knows more than a thing or two about this game of Sevens too - and will no doubt have his hugely talented team at full power for these last two events. Whatever Fiji have done this season - they have always been entertaining - and in the Montpellier-bound Samisoni Viriviri - they have the leading try scorer on the Series with 40 so far which is 11 more than New Zealand's Tim Mikkelson.
Despite looking like 4th place on the standings is as high as England can achieve this Series - it's difficult not to think that Simon Amor is onto something positive with the Red Rose. They've made five top four finishes this season and despite falling short to the New Zealand juggernaut in the Hong Kong Final - they were hugely impressive in knocking out South Africa and Fiji on finals day. Amor has handed a debut this week to young Northampton and England U20's flyer Howard Packman as the link to England Rugby's elite programme's continues to be re-forged . Always a big chance when the Series winds up in Blighty - how the England boys would dearly love to finish the season with at least one Cup win this season.
Best of the Rest
Australia - since making the cup final at their home tournament way back in October they've struggled for consistency. A plate win in Tokyo followed by a Cup Semi final in Hong Kong suggests the Aussies may be able to give long term coach Michael O'Connor a fitting farewell.
Canada are the most dangerous of the second tier nations. No Nanyak Dala or Nathan Hirayama this weekend but in John Moonlight they have one of the most abrasive players out there - Phil Mack provides the skill and vision. Four Cup quarter-finals in a row including a Las Vegas semi final - the Maple Leaf's are a team on the up.
Scotland haven't made the last eight since Dubai last November but they always lift for their home tournament. Stephen Gemmell has bolstered his squad with Pro12 talent so a Cup quarter final is the least we should expect from the Scots on home soil. Picked up the Bowl trophy in Hong Kong so come in with some confidence.
USA: Despite occupying 13th place out of the 15 core nations the Americans are the most improved team on the tour since Christmas. If decisions had gone their way Matt Hawkins men may well have knocked Fiji out of the Hong Kong quarter final. The squad will no doubt catch up with former star Carlin Isles this weekend who now has a contract with the Glasgow Warriors in the Pro12.
Watch the Glasgow 7s Series live on Sky Sports, Sat,10:30am, Sky Sports 3 and Sun, 10am, Sky Sports 3