1. Can anyone stop on-form Fiji?
There is no better sight in team sport than an on-form Fiji rugby sevens side, arguably. When they romped home to victory in the inaugural sevens competition at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, back in 2016, they won hearts and minds with their thrilling brand of play: a fusion of physicality and creativity. Now, with Tokyo 2020 on the horizon, the Fijians look in ominously good form once more, having won the last two rounds of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series. Last week, in Hamilton, at the HSBC New Zealand Sevens, the notched up a 29-7 semi-final win over reigning HSBC Sevens Series champions South Africa and followed it up with a 38-0 victory versus America. Fiji, who have never won a tournament in Australia, are all square on 57 points with America at the top of the table at the moment, but few would bet against them pulling ahead of their rivals in Sydney.
2. USA Eagles flying high
No nation in the men’s game has been more consistent than America, so far this campaign. Hitherto, Mike Friday’s team has been beaten in all three finals – in Dubai, Cape Town, and Hamilton. Can they make it fourth time lucky? With Perry Baker, 2018 World Rugby sevens player of the year, plus his Eagles teammate Carlin Isles (probably the fastest rugby player on the planet – he has run the 100 metres in 10.13 seconds and is trying to qualify for the Olympics on the track as well as with the sevens team) in action, this team are growing in confidence and ready to fly high.
3. Double double for Australia?
Almost exactly a year ago, Australia’s men and women dominated in Sydney. The former trounced Argentina 28-0 in the semi-final before defeating reigning HSBC Sevens Series champions South Africa 29-0 in the final. They followed the lead of the ladies, who thrashed New Zealand 31-0, to seal an incredible double triumph. Can they match that success this weekend? The form book suggests not, but the players will be buoyed by past glory and roared on by the home crowd.
4. O’Donnell give Aussie men boost
If Australia’s men are going to successfully defend their Sydney title this weekend, they will need their best players to perform. Tim Walsh’s team are currently a lowly sixth in the rankings after three tournaments – and in a season when the top four will gain automatic qualification for the Tokyo Olympics, there is extra pressure to rise in the table. There was a great boost this week, then, when 2018 World Rugby sevens player of the year nominee Ben O’Donnell was declared fit after recovering from a knee injury. He picked up the problem at last weekend’s Hamilton Sevens and had been in doubt for the home event at Spotless Stadium.
5. Kick-start needed for Aussie women
Australia women’s team claimed the first Olympic title in 2016, defeating trans-Tasman rivals New Zealand 24-17 to win gold. The Black Ferns Sevens hit back by winning the 2016-17 Sevens Series, though Australia edged out their their great sporting foes last season. Now, though, after disappointing performances at the Commonwealth Games and the World Cup – both won by New Zealand – the balance has shifted. Australia sit fourth in the overall table right now, after two rounds (in America and Dubai), and will be eager to kick-start their campaign on home turf.
6. Black Ferns Sevens flourishing
Allan Bunting’s Black Ferns Sevens side has been on a scorching run since winning the Commonwealth Games last April on the Gold Coast. It was the first time the women had been included, and New Zealand triumphed 17-12 in extra time against hosts, and reigning Olympic champions, Australia, to triumph. The team won the last three rounds of the 2017-18 Sevens Series, in Japan, Canada, and France – though their 90 points was still two below overall winners Australia. New Zealand made amends for missing out on the title by storming to victory at the World Cup in San Francisco in July. In the current HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series the Black Ferns Sevens have continued where they left off, with comprehensive victories in the first two rounds of the competition, in America and Dubai. Bunting will be confident his team can continue their winning run in Sydney, though will have in the back of their minds this was the venue where, 12 months ago, Australia thumped them 31-0 in the final.
7. Feast of fun for fans
It’s always more fun for fans at HSBC Sevens events, and Sydney is no exception. This season, there is a bespoke Tiki-style HSBC Hot Seat, part of leveraging HSBC’s current Home Loan campaign, which depicts customers building their dream home. The Hot Seat will offer fans, HSBC customers and VIP guests a money-can’t-buy viewing experience from the best seat in the house – complete with a panama hat and sunglasses, plus complimentary food and beverages. In addition, HSBC Dance Cam – a favourite at the HSBC Sydney Sevens tournament – is back, and will show revellers on the big screen during breaks in play. This year, the HSBC Dance Cam will also run as a competition for the general public to gain an upgrade to the HSBC Hot Seat. That’s hotness most would like to handle.
Oliver Pickup is a London-based, multi-award-winning freelance journalist. He specialises in sport – particularly rugby union – as well as technology. He can be found on Twitter at @OliverPickup.