Oceania Rugby today released the draw for the 2018 Oceania Rugby Sevens Championships to be held on 9 and 10 November at Suva’s ANZ Stadium.
The draw for the Championships includes:
“In the Women’s Championship, current HSBC Women’s SWS (Seven World Series) champions, Australia will be favoured to take Pool A on-form and experience,” said Wayne Schuster, Oceania Sevens Tournament Director and Competitions Manager for Oceania Rugby.
He said they will be slightly disappointed by their own standards from their recent placing at the USA 7s this month, and will be expected to make amends in Suva; where they will be looking to square up against arch rivals New Zealand.
“With regular appearances at the Sydney 7s and Hong Kong Qualification Tournament under their belt over the last years, Papua New Guinea (PNG) will be expected to provide a more improved performance at this Oceania Rugby Sevens Championship,” Schuster added.
“Papua New Guinea however will be wary of Samoa in their pool and will have to be on their toes if they want to retake the one qualification spot available from the Oceania 7s to gain entry back into Sydney 7s and Hong Kong next year.
“With a team comprised of all local players, Samoa is building towards qualifying for core status and will be eyeing their encounter against Papua New Guinea on Day 1. A win to Samoa in Pool play, may put qualification for the HSBC SWS beyond Papua New Guinea’s grasp,” he said.
Schuster said expect a physical challenge from new comers Nauru, where there will be no shortage of passion and excitement in their maiden appearance at a regional and international Rugby 7s Tournament.
In Pool B in the Women’s Championship, Commonwealth Games, World Rugby Cup and recent USA 7s Champions New Zealand will be hot favourites in this year’s edition, and will be determined to cap off a successful year by defending their Oceania 7s title at ANZ Stadium next month.
Schuster said after a slow start at the HSBC Women’s SWS last week, the Fiji Airways Fijiana 7s Team will be looking to make a statement in Suva . Expect the Fijiana girls to open up and exhibit their skills in front of their home crowd.
“The Fiji Airways Fijiana team will need to repel a feisty Cook Islands team who will be determined to topple their Pacific neighbours for an opportunity to qualify for the Sydney 7s and Hong Kong 7s.
“Finishing second in Pool B will provide Cook Islands a semi-final spot, and subject to Pool A’s placings, potentially the highest non ranking place to gain qualification to Sydney and Hong Kong,” Schuster added.
Cook Islands have proven to be a competitive team and more than capable of footing it with the best at the highest level. Close encounters between Papua New Guinea and Cook Islands over the last two years, leaves very little difference in capability between the two teams. After troubling New Zealand in pool play back in 2016, Cook Islands have proven their ability to upset if given the chance.
Schuster said new comers New Caledonia join the tournament with a sense of the unknown.
He said with Women’s Rugby gradually gaining a foothold in the nation, the opportunity for New Caledonian Women’s rugby to experience the Oceania Rugby 7s will be invaluable for Women’s Rugby.
In Pool A in the Men’s Championship, Papua New Guinea have proven to be the more promising of the emerging teams in the region, and have displayed some exciting performances at Sydney, Hamilton and Hong Kong over the past two seasons in the HSBC Men’s Series.
“Featuring at both the World Rugby Cup and Commonwealth Games last year, PNG have had no shortage of exposure at the highest level and wins against core teams France and Russia proves Papua New Guinea’s status as a real contender to break into the HSBC SWS, should they qualify from this year’s Oceania 7s Championship.
“Papua New Guinea have troubled Fiji in their previous encounters in Suva over the years, and it is to be seen as to whether they can take it to the next level against the Olympic Championships on their home ground.
Schuster said defending champions Fiji will be favourites to take out Pool A but will be wary of an ever improving Papua New Guinea team, given their exposure and experience at the highest level of 7s competition.
“All eyes will be on Fiji coach Gareth Baber who will be looking to select from his extended squad to quell this year’s challengers for the Oceania Rugby 7s crown in the men’s division.
After a narrow loss against Tonga at last year’s Pacific Mini Games in Vanuatu, Solomon Islands have proven they are far from just making up numbers at this year’s Oceania Sevens Championships.
“Playing a quick brand of 7s, Solomon Islands have no shortage of speed and stamina to keep both Papua New Guinea and Fiji on their feet,” Schuster added.
In Pool B, Commonwealth Games and World Cup Champions, New Zealand will be the overriding favourites and will be looking to work their team combinations against Nauru and New Caledonia.
Schuster said Nauru and New Caledonia both play a physical style of Rugby 7s, and there will be no love lost between the two teams following a close encounter in last year’s Pacific Mini Games 5th and 6th playoff.
“New Caledonia just managed to squeeze past new comers Nauru in the closing minutes of the match, while Nauru had a man in the bin. Match 8 on Day 1 between the two teams will be the feature match of Pool B,” Schuster added.
In Pool C, Australia Men’s will be looking to continue their good form from the HSBC SWS this year, where they finished 4th overall. As will be the case with the other regional core teams in the HSBC SWS playing this year’s Championship Fiji, New Zealand and Samoa, Australia will be hoping to fine tune their squad combinations ahead of an all-important 2018/2019 HSBC SWS where 2020 Olympic qualification spots will be up for grabs.
“After gaining qualification to Hong Kong from last year’s Oceania 7s, Cook Islands will be eager to replicate last year’s success for another tilt at the HSBC Qualification SWS next year.
Schuster said comprising mostly of local based players; Cook Islands are capable of upsetting any team on their day and may provide a few surprises for the Australians.
After a long absence from the Oceania 7s, Vanuatu has the skill and talent to be big movers in the championship in the years to come. Expect a few surprises from the Vanuatu Men’s team this year.
“Samoa on form and experience will lead the stakes in Pool D. Despite finishing down the ladder in the HSBC SWS, Samoa will be competitive and capable of troubling the other core teams further in the draw.
“Expect a physical encounter between Samoa and Tonga in their last pool match of the day (Match 24),” he said.
Although qualifying for the World Cup from the Pacific Mini Games, Tonga will be disappointed from last year’s performances at the Oceania Rugby 7s, where they failed to qualify for the HSBC SWS Qualification event in Hong Kong for the first time.
Schuster said Tonga, like Papua New Guinea, are more than capable of toppling any of the top teams on their day, and will be expected to test Samoa in Pool D.
“Tuvalu will be looking to improve from last year’s results at the Oceania 7s, and with continued exposure at regional tournaments, expect a more spirited performance from the Tuvaluans this year.
“Niue will be looking to reinsert their former prowess at Rugby 7s this year in Suva after a lengthy absence from the Oceania 7s.
“With the team comprising mostly of New Zealand and Australia based players, Niue will look to replicate their famous defeat of Samoa at the Wellington 7s back in 2009, at a time Niue regularly featured at the 7s World Series,” he added.
The 2018 Oceania Rugby Sevens Championship will be staged in Fiji for the second time now under a 3-year funding partnership with the Fijian Government and Host Union, Fiji Rugby.