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The first 7s tournaments in Dubai last week engendered results, surprises, and questions for the men’s and women’s teams on the circuit. The Men will compete in nine more events, while the Women will play in five more, including, the recent announcement of a new venue, the Las Vegas 7s, the first weekend in March. (www.usasevens.com)
New Zealand, the former perennial 7s champs, rebounded from a second place Olympic finish to beat Australia, the Rio gold medalists. Australia dominated women’s 7s last year. In the Dubai final, Black Ferns’ star Portia Woodman sidestepped the Wallaroos Charlotte Caslick (World Rugby Player of the year) and sprinted untouched for a long try.
The USA, playing without speedster Jessica Javelet, lost key games to unheralded teams, South Africa (who qualified but did not play in Rio 2016), and relative new comer to the Women’s circuit, Ireland. These two losses kept the Eagles out of any chance for a high placement. The squad beat Brazil for 11th place. It finished 2-3 overall in the event.
These twelve teams will meet again in Sydney, Australia, February 4. The USA need lots of work to return to their competitive capabilities, last demonstrated with a spirited fifth place win over France in Rio.
Tournament gold medal winners, South Africa, let loose sprinter after sprinter against a flat Fiji, side which did not display the flare, skills, or energy that propelled them to the gold medal at the Olympics. England enjoyed a positive tournament, beating neighbor Wales for third place. The Olympic team of Great Britain (England, Wales, and Scotland) was one of two Rio rugby sevens surprises, gaining the silver medal. Japan, finishing fourth, was the other surprise.
One of the prime questions is what has happened to New Zealand 7s? The All Blacks passed out early in Olympic play and, in Dubai, exhibited little of the talent that had set them at the top of the World Rugby HSBC standings. Most memorably this past weekend, was the 40-0 loss to South Africa.
The Eagles finished 4-2, winning the Challenge Trophy for ninth place. But to go 1-2 in pool play in the future will prevent the USA from having any chance for a gold, silver, or bronze medal (the new award replacements for the previous Cup, Plate, and Bowl trophies).
Finally, let’s welcome Uganda to the circuit (this year, Dubai, Capetown, and Hong Kong) who demonstrated a fine understanding of speed and power for the sevens game. These players are big and fast and enjoyed a competitive tournament. To see firsthand, watch Philip Wokorach’s chip and chase try against the USA.
The second HSBC World Rugby event takes place this weekend in Capetown. The Eagles are in the same pool as South Africa, Australia, and Russia. .