HAWKEYE VIEW: AU REVOIR JAPAN
EXCLUSIVE: RUGBY365 COLUMNIST MATT HAWKINS LOOKS AT WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS FOR SEVENS, WHICH APPEARS NOT TO INCLUDE JAPAN AS A STOP IN THE WORLD SERIES.
Tokyo, Japan, had its last throw of the dice on the Sevens World Series circuit.
It looks as if this past weekend's tournament was the last that they will host moving forward.
It was announced this week that Singapore will be joining the Sevens World Series in 2015/16. The Singapore leg will replace the Tokyo leg moving forward.
On that note though, what a show.
The players and teams really got themselves ready to throw down the gauntlet.
I think a few factors played a massive role in the results we saw.
* Hong Kong being what it is and the fact that it was a three-day tournament requiring the most from the players and teams on the last day takes a massive toll.
* The quick turn-around between the Hong Kong and Japan tournaments, with the travel and weather, play a major role.
Those are not the only factors, but I believe those are the two most significant ones.
As we discussed last week, coming out of the Hong Kong tournament there were for the very first time three very specific storylines that were starting to take shape and with each game moving forward for certain teams. Each of those games had a significant ability to change the narrative of the storyline for each of those teams.
The first involved the three powerhouses - South Africa, Fiji and New Zealand. They had all been consistent of late and all showed the ability to win a Series event. After Hong Kong, they were all stacked on top of each other and moving through the last three tournaments, they all really needed to make sure that they finished with in that top three or at a minimum in the top four. As with everything, pressure and opportunity normally fall hand in hand and going in to Tokyo there was immense opportunity for each team, but there was also real potential for failure and the pressure mounted.
How did they finish up?
South Africa managed to hold on to the top spot in the Sevens World Series race with a second place finish, falling to England in the Final. Again they were consistent and they have continued to make sure they keep themselves in contention and at the front of each and every tournament.
Fiji fought hard after an incredible run in Hong Kong and struggled to bounce back from that, but were able to finished third. This still keeps them in the hunt and they stayed in that illusive top three.
New Zealand had in their books a failed tournament, finishing in fifth place. Dropping the ball when they did has put immense pressure on the team going in to the final two rounds and nothing short of two tournament wins will give them a shot.
The second story line is just as crucial as the first for the teams involved. It is the race to fourth place overall on the Sevens World Series and an automatic qualification to the 2016 Olympics. Going in to Japan there were two teams that really had the opportunity to make this realistic. Australia had been holding on to the forth spot fighting tooth and nail to maintain it. England had shown glimpses of there true potential, but they really struggled to be consistent through a tournament and unfortunately had fallen short a few times over the season, but had done enough to still be in the hunt, to their credit.
Australia came out the gates firing and were completely blown out of the water by a Portuguese side that had displayed some quality sevens rugby the week before in Hong Kong in a draw with the New Zealanders. They still had two more games to claw themselves back and out of the hole they were slowly digging. Next up was Scotland and again they were unable to end up on the winning side. That left one more pool game and really the opportunity to play for pride against there cross Tasman rivals the Kiwis. As you can imagine, the game that you would have bet was the least likely they would win in their pool, they won. This also started to expose some chinks in the New Zealand armour, which were further exposed on day two. That left Australia completely out of the top eight, and in some real trouble. It didn't get any better for them on day two and they struggled through each game and eventually finished up in 10th place overall for the weekend.
England however decided that CARPE DIEM would be a very suitable motto for the two days of competition and they just got better and better each game and were truly inspirational in their final against South Africa. Going in to the last two legs of the Sevens World Series in Scotland and then at home at Twickenham, you would have to think that the momentum and confidence the team got from that win will carry them and they will be hard to beat moving forward.
Fortune favours the brave and England now hold the number 4 spot on the table and will be incredibly hard to unseat with only two more events to go.
The final storyline that was developing was that of relegation. The true reality of it was that Japan sat on the bottom of the table with 2 points and had one a total of 3 games going in to their home tournament. Playing at home and in the current position, they had nothing to lose, but I don't think anyone outside of the actual Japan team believed they could do what they did over those two days. They played like men possessed, with a belief and passion and true desperation that was incredibly inspirational and magnificent to watch. They finished day one as one of the quarterfinalists and they deserved it.
By stark contrast, Portugal started well with a win over Australia, but they just could not find the execution and energy to follow through and find a way to match Japan and get in to that top bracket. Going in to Japan, they were sitting fairly comfortable on 22 points and had a 20-point lead over the Japanese and relegation seemed to be a bullet they had dodged. After Japan however it is now a different story. Portugal sit on 25 points and Japan now sit on 17 points making it an 8-point game.
Going in to the last two legs there really is all to play for. It's going to come down to execution and a will to win. Both teams have shown the world tiny bright spots over the year and each team will need to make every game count.
As we look ahead, you have to lick your lips at the possibilities that are surfacing. For many of us that have been part of the Sevens World Series for so long, it has never been this close on so many levels going in to the final two tournaments.
Get ready for some mouth-watering action that will play out in front of our eyes play by play.
By Matt Hawkins