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PE Sevens run down

Wed, 05 Dec 2012 17:59
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How will Horne respond to taking over the Blitzbok captaincy?
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Catch the definitive run down of the Port Elizabeth leg of the IRB Sevens World Series ahead of day one's pool matches on Saturday.

Pool A - Samoa, France, South Africa, Australia

It seems incredible that only two of these four teams will go through to the Cup quarterfinals in Port Elizabeth. Australian and South African injury woes in Dubai combined with France's lift in form this season has left all four to battle it out for the two Cup places.

On current form, Samoa would have to start as favourites to top the group, having taken the Cup title in Dubai last weekend, beating South Africa 10-5 on the way. Paul Perez will be a loss if he doesn't play, and the Australians will fancy a crack at them, having beaten them in such memorable style to win the Tokyo Cup last season, albeit with a very different group of players.

Paul Treu's South Africans are at home; they have Cecil Afrika returning and will remember back to last year at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, when they beat the Samoans 12-7 in the Cup semifinal. Much will depend for the Blitzbokke on how key man Frankie Horne responds to taking over the captaincy from the injured Kyle Brown. You sense it will bring out the best in him.

Of the other sides in the pool, France looked impressive in Dubai and seem finally, under Frederic Pomarel, to be embracing the Series as something worthy of their attention and effort for 100% of the time. Giant Jean-Baptiste Gobelet was immense in Dubai, as was captain Vincent Deniau. Terry Bouhraoua is a creative spark and out wide they have real quality. They lost out 12-7 to eventual champions Samoa in a brutal Dubai semifinal but have beaten the islanders this season on the Gold Coast.

They also beat Australia 7-0 in pool play in Dubai, although the Australians have won 26 of the 31 games they have played in the history of the World Series. You also have to go back a year, to Dubai 2011, for France's last victory against South Africa, while the Blitzbokke beat them in the Cup quarterfinals in this season's first round in Australia.

It promises to be an enthralling pool from the first game to the last.

Pool B - New Zealand, Fiji, Scotland, England

Like Pool A, this has the look of a “group of death” about it and, depending on how it goes, the results in the pools could have a significant effect on the Series standings come the end of this South African tournament.

Since the World Series started back in 1999, New Zealand have won 39 matches against Fiji, while the Fijians have beaten the kiwis on 29 occasions. It is still the top rivalry in Sevens and Fiji have had the best of recent meetings, winning that heart-stopping Hong Kong finale last season and also beating Gordon Tietjens' men in the first Cup Final of this season on the Gold Coast, 32-14, their last meeting.

Scotland outperformed England in Dubai last week, but they are still in search of a first ever win against New Zealand, while it is over a year since England last beat the kiwis, 10-7, en route to winning in Dubai in 2011.

In falling to the fourth-tier Shield in Dubai last week, Ben Ryan's side is in a position where it now has to play itself out of this seeding band, which means beating either of the two powerhouses this weekend, and Scotland.

Ollie Phillips looks set to return for Ryan and it's a clean slate this week, but Phil Greenings' Scots will also be eager to front up and perform. Not since the Edinburgh Sevens in May 2009 have the Scots beaten England but with the likes of Michael Fedo outstanding in Dubai, they will feel this might be their moment.

Pool C - Kenya, Wales, Argentina, Spain

Another hugely competitive pool with the Spaniards such a tough nut to crack as the bottom-ranked side and capable of beating the likes of Wales, as they did 26-7 on the Gold Coast earlier this season. Mind you, they have not beaten Argentina at this level since the second World Series back in 2001.

If Spain are still finding their feet a little at this level, there is really nothing to choose between Kenya, Wales and Argentina. As the third seed in the pool, the Pumas will definitely fancy their chances against both sides, although Kenya are a totally different proposition now compared to when they last beat them, in London earlier this year, 14-12.

Mike Friday and his management staff have these magnificent Kenyan athletes honed, focused and structured and their defensive performance against Canada in the Dubai Cup quarterfinal will live long in the memory, as will their performance in the bronze Final to edge France and finish third, one better than they achieved in Australia. It is no accident that they currently lie joint-second in the World Series standings.

Wales also finished Dubai strongly by beating a very impressive Canadian side to lift the Plate, captain Rhys Shellard one of the players of the weekend there. There will be very little in this pool.

Pool D - Portugal, Canada, USA, Zimbabwe

Regional qualifiers Zimbabwe will have watched the pool draw live on TV at the weekend, and been delighted with this draw because it gives them a real chance. No match is easy in Sevens, but realistically they would rather be playing these three teams than New Zealand and Fiji.

However, the form Canada and Portugal showed in reaching the Cup quarterfinals in Dubai also demonstrates how quickly these new 'core' teams have raised their level this season and it will be very interesting to see how the Cheetahs stack up against them now, just eight months after competing with them toe-to-toe in Hong Kong for these new core Series places.

In Hong Kong, the Zimbabweans beat Canada 24-21 and were cruelly denied by Portugal in the dying seconds, so they will line up against these sides with no fear. That said, in five attempts they have never beaten Portugal and lost to them 24-12 in the Port Elizabeth pool stages last year.

USA also beat the Africans in Port Elizabeth last year, 26-0, but have not got the better of their North American rivals Canada for over a year, in Dubai last season. Canada also have recent history on their side in encounters with Portugal, having beaten them last week 28-12 in the Plate semifinal. In fact, the Portuguese have not beaten the Cannucks since 2010.

Source: IRB

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