Dubai is the next stop in the Sevens World Series this season, after being the starting point for the last few years. The winners of the previous leg on the Gold Coast- Fiji, go in as favourites to a tournament which is sure to be taxing on all the players after the gruelling heat they hadf to endure the previous weak in east Australia.
A great addition to this tournament is that the host, the United Arab Emirates, are finally able to field their own team, which replaces the entity that represented the Arabian Gulf. England are the reigning Dubai champions, having defeated the previous seasons overall series champions 29-21 in the final, but only after coming from a shock pool stage defeat to emerging nation Portugal (I think this is the most politically correct term ) 14-12. A loss that sparked coach Ben Ryan to refuse to let the team play in their traditional white kits as they weren't fit to wear the jersey, but now I am just rambling on.
I have a feeling that the teams best able to cope with the attrition of these succesive weekends will triumph in Dubai and the following week in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. This bodes well for the Island power houses Fiji and Samoa, but no, wait, they are both in the same group! Surely we won't see a repeat of last week when the two advancing teams from one group face each other in the final, as New Zealand and Fiji did?
There are othern tasty match-ups in the pool phase, so without further ado:
United Arab Emirates
United States of America
The key match up will of course be Fiji / Samoa. Argentina failed to impress last week, whilst the UAE just don't have the player resources to be a threat at this stage. Samoa were far from their best in Australia, so you would expect Fiji to win the clash with the 2009-2010 series champions.
Another classic encounter in the pools will be New Zealand / South Africa. New Zealand will be bitterly disappointed having lost to Fiji in the final after comprehensively out-playing them in the pool stage just the previous day, but otherwise the tournament was far from a bad outing and coach Gordon Tietjens will continue to p[ush the reigning series champions to one place better this week. South Africa were left reeling after the injuries to Sevens World Player of the year Cecil Afrika and captain Kyle Brown. The flyer Afrika is also the teams play maker, 'go-to-man' and kicker, facets that the Blitzbokke struggled without and left them having to be content with 3rd place as they were steam-rolled by the impressive Fijians.
The United States pushed SA close in their pool match, but you expect the 2008-2009 champions to impropve on their performances last week, even possibly without their two stars, and it would take an even greater effort from the USA to push them. Meanwhile Portugal will be chomping at the bit to return to the series after several solid outings, including a cup quarterfinals appearance, last season. However, their status as a non-core team probably means that many of their better players have moved on to greener pastures.
A strange pool. England were largely poor last week, whilst France have finally recovered and taken an interest in the smaller format of the game. Their cup quarterfinal appearance appears to be no fluke, and should they retain the core of their squad, we could see them challenging for silverware. However, I still feel if I were to place money on a team topping the group, it would be England, whom just have far more players experienced in the circuit than France. What-ever the result, it is sure to be an intriguing match-up.
Just two seasons ago, teams would groan at the prospect of having to face the east Africans, Kenya. However, the team has regressed since then, university exams and duties have snapped up a handful of players, whilst others simply have either families or themselves to provide for, nierther of which their positions as senior players in the Kenyan team can do, thus those have moved on. Even Zimbabwe will be eyeing them up as the game to win in pool C. Disappointing stuff for sure.
The best pool of the lot. Why? You guessed it! It is honoured and blessed with the presence of the mighty Scots . Such generousity this team displays, they will adjust their performances to allow the hosts of then previous leg and the reigning Sevens World Cup champions and Canada to 'compete' with them. On the more serious side of things, the clash of two very young and exciting teams in Wales and Australia is mouth watering. (if you are hot for rugby of course , tis an overused expression. Ever seen a man literally drooling at the prospect of seeing dirty, sweaty men throw an elongated ball about? Yip, I haven't seen cyRil watching Henson either.)
Wales won the plate fairly well, out-playing Samoa after being smashed 33-5 by Fiji in the Cup quarters. Whilst then Aussies were defeated by cross Tasman rivals New Zealand in the Cup semi, going on the be beaten by a bullish South African side in the 3rd/ 4th place play-off. Scotland really should have beaten Wales in their pool match, conceding a try in the final movement with Ross Turbull in the bin after a silly swinging arm attempt of a tackle. They will be looking at pushing on and cutting out those mistakes which prevent them from competing for higher honours. They must deal with Canada first, a team they have traditionally struggled against. Wales and Scotland start the weekends proveedings.
All in all, I expect all the pools except for C and D, where the first and second seeds will swap places imo, to finish as they were seeded, and for Fiji to meet New Zealand in the final again.
The fixtures for day one:
*1 09:20 *WALES *0*-*0 *SCOTLAND *Pool D
*2 09:42 *AUSTRALIA *0*-*0 *CANADA *Pool D
*3 10:04 *FIJI *0*-*0 *ARGENTINA *Pool A
*4 10:26 *SAMOA *0*-*0 *UNITED ARAB EMIRATES *Pool A
*5 10:48 *NEW ZEALAND *0*-*0 *UNITED STATES *Pool B
*6 11:10 *SOUTH AFRICA *0*-*0 *PORTUGAL *Pool B
*7 11:32 *FRANCE *0*-*0 *KENYA *Pool C
*8 11:54 *ENGLAND *0*-*0 *ZIMBABWE *Pool C
*9 13:02 *WALES *0*-*0 *CANADA *Pool D
*10 13:24 *AUSTRALIA *0*-*0 *SCOTLAND *Pool D
*11 13:46 *FIJI *0*-*0 *UNITED ARAB EMIRATES *Pool A
*12 14:08 *SAMOA *0*-*0 *ARGENTINA *Pool A
*13 14:32 *NEW ZEALAND *0*-*0 *PORTUGAL *Pool B
*14 14:54 *SOUTH AFRICA *0*-*0 *UNITED STATES *Pool B
*15 15:16 *FRANCE *0*-*0 *ZIMBABWE *Pool C
*16 15:38 *ENGLAND *0*-*0 *KENYA *Pool C
*17 16:46 *SCOTLAND *0*-*0 *CANADA *Pool D
*18 17:08 *ARGENTINA *0*-*0 *UNITED ARAB EMIRATES *Pool A
*19 17:30 *UNITED STATES *0*-*0 *PORTUGAL *Pool B
*20 18:23 *KENYA *0*-*0 *ZIMBABWE *Pool C
*21 18:44 *WALES *0*-*0 *AUSTRALIA *Pool D
*22 19:06 *FIJI *0*-*0 *SAMOA *Pool A
*23 19:30 *NEW ZEALAND *0*-*0 *SOUTH AFRICA *Pool B
*24 19:52 *FRANCE *0*-*0 *ENGLAND *Pool C
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