hosts are in great form
Clark Laidlaw’s New Zealand are currently second in the
HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series rankings after two rounds. Before the Christmas
break, the team won in Dubai, in the season opener, and finished fourth in Cape
Town despite a number of injuries. Few would bet against the side continuing
their good form and triumphing at home.
Can New Zealand make it third time lucky? While the hosts have begun the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series impressively this season, they have not been successful on home turf in the last two years. One has to flick through the history books, to 2016, to locate the last time they triumphed. That was in Wellington when a certain Rieko Ioane scored two late tries to help down South Africa 24-21 in a thrilling final. Last year, in the inaugural event in Hamilton, New Zealand were toppled in the semi-final by eventual victors Fiji.
The Eagles are flying high Surprisingly, perhaps, Mike Friday’s American team are currently top of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens ranking after two rounds – even though they have not won a tournament yet this term. The Eagles, who bombed at the World Cup on home soil in San Francisco last year, have reached the final of the competitions in Dubai and Cape Town. They were bettered by New Zealand in the Middle East (21-5) before losing out to Fiji in South Africa (29-15). It is encouraging for the growth of sevens to see Friday’s boys flying high after last year’s World Cup disappointment.
Baker to star – again? The ace up USA head coach, Friday’s sleeve is Perry Baker. The speedster was named World Rugby Men’s Sevens Players of the Year in November, for the second year running. “Speed stick” is reckoned to be one of the fastest men in rugby – along with teammate Carlin Isles (whose 100-metres time of 10.13 seconds qualified him for the American Olympic trials). Last season Isles was the runaway leading try scorer with 49 – five more than second-placed Welshman Luke Morgan – and Baker crossed for 37. If both Baker and Isles can stay fit for all of the HSBC New Zealand Sevens then the Eagles stand a good chance of another great weekend. Baker has nine tries to his name, three more than Isles, ahead of Hamilton.
Watch the women stars Alongside the HSBC New Zealand Sevens there is a special, one-off women’s exhibition tournament taking place at FMG Stadium Waikato. The so-called Fast Four includes New Zealand, France, China and England. There are whispers that next year there will be a full Sevens Series round for the women in New Zealand, so this could be a small taster of what is on offer for the players and the Hamilton crowd.
Even better fan experience The good people at top-tier sponsors HSBC have made it their missions to grow the game of sevens across the globe, and there is no doubt the level of interest has never been higher. HSBC has invested in the grassroots of the game, but in Hamilton they are dialling up the fun for fans in the stadium. The HSBC Hot Seat will again be featured in the Family Zone at the HSBC New Zealand Sevens. Fans can win a session in the Hot Seat for them and five guests via the HSBC Dance Cam, which will be featured on the Big Screen in-stadia throughout the day.
qualification dials up the pressure
The top four team in the overall HSBC World Rugby Sevens
Series standings will be rewarded with automatic qualification to next year’s
Tokyo Olympics. So there is even more reason for the players to perform to the
best of their abilities. DJ Forbes, who skippered All Blacks Sevens for a
decade before hanging up his boots in 2017, says: “Olympic qualification
certainly adds a bit more pressure on teams.” As thoughts begin to turn to the
Japanese capital, who will cope best and come out on top in Hamilton? Stay
tuned to find out.