Tougher than ever! This is the general theme as we head into the opening round of the 2009/10 International Rugby Board Sevens World Series, which gets underway in it’s traditional starting spot of Dubai on Friday.
The 11th version of this global circus will receive a substantial bigger portion of the world sporting spotlight now that the abbreviated version of the game has been accepted into the Olympic Games.
And even though Sevens will only make its appearance at the 2016 games, the world will be following the game a lot closer in the next six years, starting in Dubai – just to see how entertaining and competitive it really can be.
As Paul Treu, coach of the defending champion South African team said, the expectations of what the game should produce will be substantially higher.
“There’s going to be a lot of expectations on the teams, on what people are going to expect in terms of quality,” Trey said, as his team set out to defend not only their IRB Series crown, but also the Dubai title they won last year,
Gordon Tietjens, coach of the eight-time IRB champion New Zealand team, also spoke of the added pressure of being in the Olympic spotlight.
“It’s a massive challenge because there is a lot of added interest and coverage now that Sevens has become an Olympic sport,” Tietjens said.
“I don’t think a lot of people in New Zealand realise the difficulties we face in competing on the World Series now.
“We’ve been at the top, there or thereabouts, winning eight of the 10 World Series titles so far and the expectations are always very high.
“You’ve got to be at your very best to beat these teams and I think that we can do well if we start well and my players really get their act together here.”
While the Olympic theme will cast its own shadow on the event, most of the teams hope to treat it as just another event on the calendar
For the South Africans, one of only two teams other than New Zealand to have been crowned overall champions on the IRB circuit, being the favourites is a new challenge.
“We are in a completely different situation to last year, when people were hoping we would win and now people expect us to win,” new Springbok captain Paul Delport said.
However, he felt that sticking to the structures and systems will get them through.
“We need to go back to what [coach] Paul Treu said, taking it one game at a time and one tournament at a time … that will help a lot.
“We do have miles of experience, players like Neil Powell and Sticky [Mzwandile Stick] who has played 37 tournaments. Those guys know the business and they know what to do.
“I’m convinced the guys will handle the pressure well – it will be different, as we’ve never been World Series champions before, but the guys can handle it and it will give us more drive to perform even better than we did last year.”
Delport admitted that taking the captaincy armband from Sevens veteran Mzwandile Stick will be a “big challenge”.
“However, we’ve got as fantastic leadership group in the team and that’s making it easier for me.
“We also have a strong bond as a team and our unity will carry us through the season.”
The New Zealand coach, Tietjens, also spoke about the need for “experience” to get a team through the demanding eight-tournament series.
“I’ve named four very experienced players in my captain DJ Forbes, vice-captain Zar Lawrence, Tomasi Cama and Lote Raikabula. They are my core this season and we’ll build around them,” he said.
“That’s where we’ve put all of our riches I suppose, and I guess there is a lot of pressure applied to those four players. We are relying on them staying fit this season.
“In saying that, I’ve got a youngster called Sherwin Stowers who’s outstanding and very quick. Save Tokula’s come on leaps and bounds and played last year and a couple more guys like Paul Grant and Ben Souness have been in the squad before and will be so much better this year for their previous experience in Sevens.”
Both South Africa and New Zealand will have to negotiate tricky legs in the pool stages before they can think about tournament victories.
The Springboks, defending champions in Dubai and the second leg in George, on top of defending their IRB crown, face World Cup champions Wales, hosts Arabian Gulf and Australia in their Pool A matches.
Pool B is headed by the effervescent Fijians, along with fellow Pacific Islanders Samoa, Scotland and the ever-improving Zimbabwe.
Pool C will see the always dangerous England face Russia, the unpredictable United States and crowd favourites Kenya – the latter the giant killers of the IRB circuit.
Pool D is headed by New Zealand, with the equally unpredictable Argentina, France and another giant killing act in Portugal.
Pool A: Arabian Gulf, Australia, South Africa, Wales
Pool B: Fiji, Samoa, Scotland, Zimbabwe
Pool C: England, Russia, United States, Kenya
Pool D: Argentina, France, New Zealand, Portugal
Schedule – Day One:
(Kick-off time is local – GMT + four hours)
Match 1: Fiji v Scotland, 09.20
Match 2: Samoa v Zimbabwe, 09.42
Match 3: England v United States, 10.04
Match 4: Kenya v Russia, 10.26
Match 5: New Zealand v Portugal, 10.48
Match 6: Argentina v France, 11.10
Match 7: South Africa v Wales, 11.32
Match 8: Australia v Arabian Gulf, 11.54
Match 9: Fiji v Zimbabwe, 12.56
Match 10: Samoa v Scotland, 13.18
Match 11: England v Russia, 13.40
Match 12: Kenya v United States, 14.02
Match 13: New Zealand v France, 14.24
Match 14: Argentina v Portugal, 14.46
Match 15: South Africa v Arabian Gulf, 15.08
Match 16: Australia v Wales, 15.30
Match 17: Scotland v Zimbabwe, 16.32
Match 18: United States v Russia, 16.54
Match 19: Portugal v France, 17.16
Match 20: Wales v Arabian Gulf, 17.38
Match 21: Fiji v Samoa, 18.30
Match 22: England v Kenya, 18.52
Match 23: New Zealand v Argentina, 19.14
Match 24: South Africa v Australia, 19.36