Sydney will host the fourth round of the men’s World Rugby HSBC Sevens Series and the second round of the women’s Sevens Series.
Former Black Fern turned commentator Melodie Robinson believes you would be crazy not to make Olympic gold medallists Australia the favourites at their own home tournament in Sydney this weekend, even if they were outplayed in the Dubai final by a resurgent New Zealand outfit in December.
They have the core of the team that won the 2015-16 series and Olympic gold with co-captains Sharni Williams and Shannon Parry (pictured) two forwards that do so much hard work up front, balanced by the fitness and ball-playing ability of Charlotte Caslick, Alicia Quirk’s wide pass and the finishing power of Ellia Green, returning after injury.
They’ve been turned into stars inspiring the next generation in Australia too so motivation will be high to perform well.
However, Green isn’t quite back to full fitness yet and, most importantly, the Aussies are missing one of the classiest outside backs in women’s rugby in Emma Tonegato. That’s a big loss in my book as she offers more on the pitch than the explosive Green – a higher work rate and more game awareness. When coach Tim Walsh has both wingers available he has the best of both worlds, with one the bench may be slightly off balance.
Canada will also be competitive for this one as they’ve been in Sydney for a week already with Jen Kish back training with the team. They’re in rebuilding mode but players like Kish, Ghislaine Landry, Kayla Moleschi and Ashley Steacy are the glue they need to coach their talented youngsters into the style they like to play. They tripped up in Dubai, losing to a very good Fijiana side who seem to be finally believing in their ability.
Fijiana will be strong as they’ve been training hard over the summer months, plus they’ll be match fit after lots of local tournaments. The key with this side is their ability to offload into space, rather than offload to a player. They’re emulating their men’s side’s uncanny ability to communicate where they’ll be next, rather than passing to where they are now.
This season I wouldn’t be surprised if we see them in their first semi-final, although in Sydney they are in Australia’s pool so that’ll make things more difficult for them to do that this weekend.
DUBAI WINNERS LOOK STRONGER
So on to Dubai champions New Zealand. I’m surprised that Selica Winiata still can’t find a spot in this side as she is quite frankly the most dangerous half-back/sweeper New Zealand has. That said, it’s great to see the twinkle-toed Renee Wickliffe back and she looks to be brimming with confidence. She’s a magical creator, but has struggled with injury and fitness for some time.
This is arguably a stronger side than Dubai with Theresa Fitzpatrick also returning. The only new addition, Alena Saili, is more a work in progress at this point of her career but has shone as a teenager at the regional level for the past three seasons. It will be great to see her progress now that she is In terms of the other teams to watch, you can’t go past Russia. You could argue they are the favourites in Pool C, which also features the USA and England, as the bronze medallists in Dubai. However, the Russians score tries because they are incredibly quick and attack the line hard individually. They don’t really vary their attack, so if teams are disciplined in their defensive systems and stay in a line, they can nullify their attack.
That’s why in Pool C I’d pick England to go through on top as what I saw with their team pattern in Dubai on day one was excellent. They use their power players well, push hard on defence and looked fluent in getting the ball to space.
Finally, France and the United States looked like they were finding their combinations and didn’t gel in the first round. Both sides can beat any team on their day, however, so don’t discount them yet.
With a packed crowd I’m sure this tournament will once again showcase just how fantastic this women’s series truly is under the professional programme.
Sydney Sevens Women’s Pool Draw
Pool A: New Zealand, Canada, France, Papua New Guinea Pool B: Australia, Fiji, Ireland, Brazil Pool C: Russia, England, Spain, USA
Sydney Sevens Men’s Pool Draw
Pool A: South Africa, England, Kenya, Japan
Pool B: Fiji, France, Wales, Samoa
Pool C: Scotland, New Zealand, Australia, Papua New Guinea
Pool D: Canada, Argentina, USA, Russia
(Editorial thanks to World Rugby)