Sevens back on the agenda in Dubai
December 3, 2009
South Africa will be out to defend their series title this season © Getty Images
With the sport still basking in the glow of Olympic inclusion, world rugby's travelling circus is gearing up for action once again. The IRB Sevens World Series kicks off in Dubai on Friday and is set to provide yet more high-octane thrills as South Africa aim to defend their crown.
Paul Treu's Sevens Boks dethroned New Zealand with a composed run to their first overall title last season and are out to inflict more damage on the Kiwis, who have enjoyed almost uninterrupted dominion over the series since its inception.
Gordon Tietjens' men have won over eight of the 10 seasons and will again go in to this year's edition as one of the teams to beat. Tietjens has selected an experienced squad and is hoping that they can hit the ground running in Dubai.
"I've named four very experienced players in my captain DJ Forbes, vice-captain Zar Lawrence, Tomasi Cama and Lote Raikabula. They are my core this season and we'll build around them," he said. "That's where we've put all of our riches I suppose, and I guess there is a lot of pressure applied to those four players. We are relying on them staying fit this season.
"In saying that, I've got a youngster called Sherwin Stowers who's outstanding and very quick. Save Tokula's come on leaps and bounds and played last year and a couple more guys like Paul Grant and Ben Souness have been in the squad before and will be so much better this year for their previous experience in Sevens."
England endured a mixed outing last season, but will be buoyed by the memories of their victory at the Wellington Sevens and of Newcastle scrum-half Micky Young's dramatic late try to clinch the London title at Twickenham. Ben Ryan has handed the captaincy to Saracens No.9 Kevin Barrett and he will lead an experienced squad.
Ben Gollings, the series' all-time leading points-scorer, Chris Cracknell and Isoa Damudamu all back-up from last year, although there is no place in the squad for the IRB Sevens Player of the Year, Ollie Phillips, who now plays in France for Stade Francais.
It will also be an interesting season for surprise Rugby World Cup Sevens winners Wales, who have a fully contracted core side for the first time thanks to the WRU's recently-inked participation agreement with the four regions. Time will tell whether they can translate their promise in to a consistent challenge across the course of the season, with a number of new faces and only one survivor from their World Cup exploits.
They won't have to wait long for a test of their abilities, though, as they are paired with the Boks in Dubai's Pool A. England face the ever improving Kenyans, the USA and Russia while New Zealand are up against World Cup finalists Argentina, France and Portugal.
Pool A: Arabian Gulf, Australia, South Africa, Wales
Huw Richards assesses where Wales are after a mixed Six Nations, with front row seats still very much available for the World Cup
John Mitchell lapped up the action on 'Sensational Saturday' - but warns not to expect a repeat come Rugby World Cup time later this year
Craig Dowd warns England, Ireland and Wales they should play to their strengths rather than those of the All Blacks and the Wallabies
Tom Hamilton runs the rule over just where the six countries stand ahead of the global gathering in September