The vital 2014–2015 HSBC Rugby Sevens World Series that will set the table for rugby’s return to the Olympic Games in 2016 kicked off in fitting fashion this past weekend. While the cup round was ultimately dominated by familiar faces, there were several surprises and numerous teams showed that they too can push for a top-four finish in this year’s series along with the automatic Olympic qualification that entails.
Rugby Sevens 2014-15 World Series will set the table for rugby’s return to the Olympic Games in 2016 …
The first day comprised the pool round of competition. The teams were seeded based upon last year’s results. Due to numerous changes to rosters and coaching staffs in the offseason, last year’s results do not necessarily hold true. Coming into the competition, the pools were set (in order of seed):
In previewing this event, I predicted that New Zealand would top pool A. This was an accurate prediction as New Zealand cruised through pool play with its only “close” match being an eleven-point victory over Samoa. Coming into the tournament, there were questions surrounding Samoa after a disappointing 8th-place finish last season. Conversely, France had been a much-improved team last year from its prior showings. The battle for the second qualification spot in Pool A came down to a 19-12 victory for Samoa over France that would send the Samoans to the cup round and leave France fighting for the bowl.
Coming into this event, I boldly stated, in reference to Pool D, “There is no invincible team in the pool.”
I was proven right from the first two matches of the tournament. After Argentina notched a minor upset over perennial series-contender England (21-19), the USA stepped up to the plate against North American rival Canada. Despite a 1-3 record against the Canadians last season, the Eagles were high form in the opening match. Thanks to some great line breaks and well-positioned players generating turnover ball, the Eagles were able to keep good attacking pressure on Canada. While the match showed glimpses of greatness out of recent addition Perry Baker, the star of the match was unquestionably Zack Test. Test scored a hat-trick. The second of Test’s three scores marked his 100th in series play. One need look no further than the USA try-scorer table to see how great of a career Test has had on tour. Test’s 100th try set him 44 tries clear of the second place career try scorer: Matt Hawkins. Ultimately, the decider was a conversion by team captain Madison Hughes. The USA took the match 17-15.
Sadly, despite the great start, the USA Eagles were unable to recapture the execution from the Canadian match.
Also, after the Canadian match, Danny Barrett was deemed to have committed foul play and was suspended for the remainder of pool play. Against England, the US defense held strong until England managed to snag a converted try at the halfway mark. During the half, Coach Friday got on his players to execute quicker and crisper passing and, notably, to keep on the ref about the persistent England penalties at the breakdown. Despite the mounting English penalties, they were never cited with a yellow card, a result that seemed on the mind of the England coaching team. In the second half, Zack Test was again able to cross the try line. Aided by a Madison Hughes conversion, the match was leveled at 7. With just over two minutes left, the Americans had possession at midfield with a penalty. They opted to forego an opportunity to kick deep and eat clock for a tap and go. Read more…