Preview: Vancouver Sevens

Date published: March 10 2017

World Rugby's 2016/17 Sevens Series rolls in to Vancouver this weekend with 16 teams competing in Round Six of the 10-leg tournament.

The action gets underway on Saturday and South Africa are heavy favourites to clinch their fifth title of the series. The Blitzboks have played in each final of the series so far with their only defeat registered in their home leg in Cape Town last December.

Their victories in Dubai, Wellington, Sydney and last weekend in Las Vegas means they are sitting comfortably at the top of the World Series table with 107 points.

Last season's World Series winners Fiji are in second place – after finishing as runners-up in Las Vegas – on 83 points while Cape Town Sevens winners England are two points adrift in third place with New Zealand fourth on 71 points and the USA fifth with 52 points.

Springbok Sevens coach, Neil Powell, knows that the Blitzboks will have to endure another huge physical at the Vancouver Sevens but expects the mental challenge to be even greater.
With the Blitzboks victorious in 28 of their 30 matches played in the 2016/17 World Rugby Sevens Series so far, the target on their backs is getting bigger and England, who handed South Africa their only two defeats, will loom large in Pool A in Vancouver.
The Vancouver event is also the second in as many weeks, with bumps and bruises a natural consequence after some bruising matches in Las Vegas.
The Blitzboks will have to make do without their two leading points’ scorers this season, with Seabelo Senatla (160 points) and Justin Geduld (119 points) not in Vancouver.
To Powell though, the biggest threat is his side's mental focus.
“Unfortunately there is a lot of talk that we have the series sewn up, which cannot be further from the truth,” he said.
“One bad tournament, where you don't make the semi-finals, could derail our momentum significantly. The last thing I want to players to think of is a fifth tournament win or our lead in the series and then getting ahead of themselves. We dare not to look past Chile in that first pool game.”
Chile has interestingly won the only encounter played between the two sides, by 28-21 in a pool match at Punta del Este in Uruguay in 2000.
“I don't have to spell out how dangerous Kenya and England can be, so if we are not on top of our game, we could not even make the quarters,” Powell warned.
The South Africans have won 40 of their 46 matches against Kenya (average score 26-9) and 36 of 68 against England (average score 16-15).
“We did a solid review of our performance in Las Vegas and realised how many things we can still do better,” said Powell.
“We did some good things, but not enough to excuse us from working hard again this week to fine tune our game. I was pleased with the way we executed our ruck attack and how we kept the ball when we had possession.”

With 76,000 supporters expected to enjoy the Vancouver Sevens this weekend, the home town captain wants them to inspire and embolden his team.

Canada skipper Harry Jones has laid down a gauntlet to the 76,000 or so rugby fans who are planning to head along to the Vancouver Sevens this weekend – if you provide the team with even louder and more enthusiastic support than you did last year, the team promises to lift their game also.

Jones’ side won the Bowl (now called Challenge Trophy) event in 2016, beating France 19-17 in a thrilling finish at BC Place.

And while the partisan and proudly Canadian crowd nearly raised the roof on the enclosed stadium that day, Jones reckons they can shout even louder this time around.

“I want to say a big thank you the fans coming out this weekend," he said. 

"The boys are super-excited and ready for you guys to fire us up for the games. It’s a pretty special opportunity for all of us.

"There are quite a few home town boys here on our team as well but for rugby in Canada it means so much that we’ve got 70,000-odd people coming out for a two-day tournament in Canada, which isn’t known as a rugby country, it’s amazing for us to be able to go out and play in front of that kind crowd.

“I’d love for them to have the same enthusiasm as they had last year. It might be hard to beat because they put on a good show but it sounds like they know a little bit more about the costumes this year so I think they’re going to have a lot of fun.

“Maybe I’ll throw out a challenge to the fans. If they can beat their performance last year then we’ll do the same with ours.”

Meanwhile, Canada head coach Damian McGrath has the luxury of picking from a full-strength squad this weekend and he knows the difference big home support could have on his side.

“I don’t think you should underestimate just what a big impression a crowd like that has on a home team," he said. 

"If the crowd can be as good this year as they were in 2016 then I think it will really lift the players again. The crowd are our eighth man on the field and I know they’ll make a difference when we need them.

“I don’t think you can put a value on what it means to rugby people here to have this in Vancouver. The whole city is putting its weight behind it and that includes the people and the media who are so supportive of it. 

"The stadium is lit up, there are flags everywhere, it gets newspaper inches which rugby rarely does, it’s on TV and it’s a massive boost to the game in Canada.”

Pools for Vancouver 7s:

Pool A: South Africa, England, Kenya, Chile
Pool B: Fiji, Argentina, Samoa, Wales
Pool C: Australia, France, Japan, USA
Pool D: Canada, New Zealand, Scotland, Russia

Day One, schedule – Saturday, March 11
(Kick-off is local time – GMT minus 8 hours)

Australia v France – 09:30
United States v Japan – 09:52
Argentina v Samoa – 10:14
Fiji v Wales – 10:36
England v Kenya – 10:58
South Africa v Chile – 11:20
Canada v Scotland – 11:42
New Zealand v Russia – 12:04
Australia v Japan – 13:06
United States v France – 13:28
Argentina v Wales – 13:50
Fiji v Samoa – 14:12
England v Chile – 14:34
South Africa v Kenya – 14:56
Canada v Russia – 15:18
New Zealand v Scotland – 15:40
France v Japan – 16:46
United States v Australia – 17:08
Samoa v Wales – 17:30
Fiji v Argentina – 17:52
Kenya v Chile – 18:14
South Africa v England – 18:36
Scotland v Russia – 18:58
New Zealand v Canada – 19:20

With thanks to World Rugby