Preview: Dubai Sevens
Preview: Dubai SevensSHARE
The captains of the top four seeds – New Zealand, Australia, England and South Africa – admit that they expect a tough test in this weekend’s Dubai Sevens.
DJ Forbes and his all-conquering New Zealanders have won their last three tournaments but have not won the title in Dubai since 2009. This weekend they top Pool A and face matches against Kenya, France and Portugal.
"Dubai is one of the ones Titch [coach Gordon Tietjens] has wanted to target and it's been a little while now so we're on a good run of wins and hopefully we can keep that going," said Forbes.
"Part and parcel of being a New Zealand team is that we're expected to do well. On paper it's an awesome side, it's got guys who have been in tournament Cup wins, World Cups, Comm Games, so there's a massive amount of experience and with that comes expectation but it's all on the day and we could have a team of stars but a star team will beat anyone, so we've got to put it together seven minutes at a time.
"I'm the closest I've been to injury-free and now with the Olympics I've got a new drive, a new motivation and a lot of rugby in me, but with a bunch of boys like this it's going to be hard to hold my spot so I've got to try and do my job week in, week out."
Gold Coast runners-up and Player of the Tournament Ed Jenkins knows that Australia have never won in Dubai, but he is buoyed by the fact that they have never enjoyed such a strong start to a World Series. He is now looking to carry on that momentum in their pool B clashes with Wales, Scotland and Spain.
"We've never had a start like this so unfamiliar territory for us but it's still early days; there are eight tournaments to go so we'll see how we go this weekend," said Australia's captain.
"We've got a lot of competition for places at the moment and James [Stannard] has been battling for his place and got the late call-up, but unlucky for Cam Clark, who has been performing well recently.
"Looking forward, it looks like the programme is going to be centralised, we've got guys signing new two-year contracts at the moment, so the future of Australia rugby Sevens looks bright at the moment.
“There's a belief in the side at the moment, retaining guys helps with that a lot but the guys aren't under pressure at all, hopefully we'll just go out there at the weekend, do what we do best and the results will take care of themselves."
England skipper Tom Powell can point to four previous victories in Dubai since the World Series started, and was involved in the two most recent wins in 2010 and 2011.
However, that counts for nothing under new coach Simon Amor, who is in the process of instilling a new ethos and playing system.
Of the top four seeds, England also face arguably the toughest of the pools with games in Pool C on Friday against Fiji and former England coach Ben Ryan, as well as North American rivals Canada and USA.
"The boys have had good preparation back home and after the results on the Gold Coast hopefully we can replicate what we did here a couple of years ago, rather than last year [Shield winners].
“Once you get going and the fans get behind you here, it's a fantastic place to play. It adds a bit of pressure because people want to see you perform, but it's a special place to play," said Powell.
"Fiji are one of the household names when it comes to Sevens, and coached by our old coach, which adds a sub-plot. We managed to come out on top against them in the Gold Coast and it will be a tough game here but we'll go in with the right mindset.
“Canada and USA are both strong teams with good games in them and can turn anyone over, given a chance, so we've got to make sure we're on the money, controlling those games and not under-estimating those teams in any way. They're on the World Series for a reason and both dangerous opposition."
South Africa last won in Dubai in 2008, the season they went on to win their one and only World Series title to date. They impressed on the Gold Coast, losing to the hosts in the Cup semifinals, having only arrived a day before after travel disruptions.
This time there have been no such problems and Branco du Preez and Cheslin Kolbe come back to a settled squad under captain Kyle Brown aiming to perform well on Day One against Samoa, Argentina and invited side, Russia.
"We've enjoyed the break and it's given us time to reflect on what happened there [in Australia] and we were pretty pleased with how we performed and we've taken a lot that we can take into Dubai. These days you've got to focus on Day One, or you'll find yourself in a Bowl [competition] very quickly," said Brown.
"We've got Argentina first, then Russia and Samoa, so a challenging pool and that's as far as we're looking, to top our pool. We'd like to avoid ending up in the Bowl, like last year, and I'd also like to avoid breaking my leg, which is where I ended up last year.
"Cheslin Kolbe is back and I think everyone knows what he brings to us. He's got incredible feet and he's one of those guys who finds the space and puts everyone else into it. It's a fairly simple job but he does it incredibly well, and we've got other guys like Branco du Preez, a real stalwart, coming back also."
Pool A: New Zealand, Kenya, France and Portugal
Pool B: Australia, Wales, Scotland and Spain
Pool C: England, Fiji, Canada, United States
Pool D: South Africa, Samoa, Argentina, Russia
Day One schedule – Friday, November 29:
(Kick-off times are local – GMT minus four hours)
Match 1: South Africa v Argentina, 08.40
Match 2: Samoa v Russia, 09.02
Match 3: New Zealand v France, 09.24
Match 4: Kenya v Portugal, 09.46
Match 5: Australia v Scotland, 10.10
Match 6: Wales v Spain, 10.32
Match 7: England v Canada, 10.54
Match 8: Fiji v United States, 11.16
Match 9: South Africa v Russia, 13.10
Match 10: Samoa v Argentina, 13.32
Match 11: New Zealand v Portugal, 13.54
Match 12: Kenya v France, 14.16
Match 13: Australia v Spain, 14.40
Match 14: Wales v Scotland, 15.02
Match 15: England v United States, 15.24
Match 16: Fiji v Canada, 15.46
Match 17: Argentina v Russia, 16.56
Match 18: France v Portugal, 17.18
Match 19: Scotland v Spain, 17.40
Match 20: Canada v United States, 18.02
Match 21: South Africa v Samoa, 18.54
Match 22: New Zealand v Kenya, 19.16
Match 23: Australia v Wales, 19.40
Match 24: England v Fiji, 20.02