RWC Sevens pool draw - Men's form guide(IRB.COM) Tuesday 26 February 2013
The RWC Sevens 2013 pool allocation draw takes place at Petroff Palace in Moscow on 28 February, placing the 16 women's teams into four pools of four and the 24 men's teams into six pools of four.
The 24 men's teams are ranked in four bands of six, determined by series points accumulated over the 2010/11 and 2011/12 HSBC Sevens World Series, and the first five rounds of the current 2012/13 Series. However, with fortunes varying so far this season and the level of competition more even than ever before, the draw could throw up some intriguing group stages.
For example, the draw could produce a pool featuring Australia, Kenya, Canada and Uruguay - the teams currently ranked, respectively, 11th, 6th, 10th and 17th in the Series.
Equally, there could be an All-African group featuring South Africa, Kenya, Zimbabwe and Tunisia, and an an all-European pool featuring England, Wales/France/Scotland, Portugal/Spain/Russia, Georgia.
Here is a lowdown on the four bands and the six national sides in each of them.
Pool draw band 1: New Zealand, Fiji, South Africa, Samoa, England, Australia
Of these six teams, only Australia have not won a Cup title in the five rounds played on the 2012/13 HSBC Sevens World Series. There are no guarantees that things will go their way in Moscow, though, as the 2009 World Cup proved. Samoa was the only one of these six to reach the semi-finals in Dubai after an unbelievable set of quarter-finals.
New Zealand - current Series ranking: 1st
Consistency has once again marked them out this season, reaching four of the five Cup finals and winning the title in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. They look odds-on to win their 11th Series title, but have not lifted the Melrose Cup since 2001 in Mar del Plata, where Jonah Lomu was the star. They have had a few injury concerns this season, not least losing their captain DJ Forbes and chief flyer Kurt Baker to injury in Wellington, but they should recover and it will be interesting to see whether coach Gordon Tietjens spruces up his squad with Super Rugby stars and All Blacks, as he did to such good effect in Delhi with the likes of Hosea Gear.
Fiji - current Series ranking: 4th
Fiji have won the Rugby World Cup Sevens twice, Waisale Serevi last lifting it in Hong Kong in 2005, but in 2009 an ageing team of 15's stars brought together at the last minute were taught something of a lesson by Kenya in the Cup quarters. This season the Fijians have used more players on the Series than anyone else and have relied heavily on certain players gelling the effort together, especially captain Setefano Cakau and playmaker Joji Raqamate. Will they be able to strike the right balance in time for Moscow?
South Africa - current Series ranking: 2nd
How Blitzbokke coach Paul Treu would dearly love to land the Melrose Cup. Series winners in 2008/09, the South Africans were the first to move to centrally-contracted full-time players for Sevens and it's brought consistency but not yet the expected torrent of silverware. They struck gold last time out at the USA Sevens in Las Vegas, though, and currently lie second in the HSBC Sevens World Series. Will be even stronger if Cecil Afrika and captain Kyle Brown can return from injury.
Samoa - current Series ranking: 3rd
In relative terms, Samoa's Sevens team achieved one of the greatest feats in sporting history by winning the World Series in 2010/11, but they're now having to do without the likes of Uale Mai, Ofisa Treviranus and Alafoti Fa'osiliva, key men from the past. They won the Dubai title at the end of 2012 though with Paul Perez, Lio Lolo and Robert Lilomaiava spearheading the new recruits.
England - current Series ranking: 9th
England's form this season has been impossible to predict, but generally far below what they or anyone else would have expected. Well under-par in failing to make a single Cup quarter final in the first three rounds, they clicked emphatically to win the Cup title in Wellington, before bombing to three consecutive pool losses on day one in Las Vegas a week later.
Australia - current Series ranking: 11th
Like England, Australia have struggled with injuries to key players for much of the season, notably missing their captain Ed Jenkins. They're currently 11th in the Series and in danger of flirting with the dreaded core team relegation dog fight at the end of the season, although it was at this stage last year that they kick-started their season, winning in Tokyo.
Pool draw band 2: Wales, Argentina, France, Kenya, Scotland, USA
Wales - current Series ranking: 8th
Argentina- current Series ranking: 7th
The reigning Rugby World Cup Sevens champions, Wales, and the runners-up from four years ago in Dubai, Argentina, both lie in wait in this second band of teams to be drawn, which is packed with quality. Wales and Argentina lie eighth and seventh in the World Series respectively, having made three Cup quarter finals out of five - more than both England and Australia in the band above them. Both have a settled look to them this season, although in terms of quality perhaps not up with the vintages of 2009.
France - current Series ranking: 5th
Kenya - current Series ranking: 6th
Band two also contains the surprise packages of the season so far in France and Kenya, who on current form would both be in the top band. With a centrally-contracted group of Sevens players together and committed for the first time, the French have been a revelation, especially at the end of 2012 when they ended the first three rounds in second place overall. Disappointing in Wellington, they responded in Las Vegas and rounded off their fortnight with a 40-7 win against England and a tighter win against Argentina to take a competitive Bowl. Currently deservedly fifth in the Series standings. The Kenyans, under former England coach Mike Friday, have undergone even more of a change in focus and fortunes. Disciplined and physical, they've added a defensive steel to their ability to sprint. Core skills can sometimes let them down still, but it takes some team to beat New Zealand in Wellington in a Cup semi final. Sixth in the world at the moment, and not by accident.
Scotland - current Series ranking: 12th
USA - current Series ranking: 13th
Scotland have had a funny season. Dire in the opening three tournaments, they looked a different team on arriving in Wellington, and played like one to reach the Cup quarters there and in Las Vegas a week later. Maybe it was victory against Fiji in South Africa that gave them a new confidence. They went on to beat the Fijians again in Wellington and then beat England in Las Vegas. Still only 12th in the Series though after that slow start. The USA reached the Cup quarter finals in South Africa and also most recently on home soil at the USA Sevens, where they lost to Fiji 21-19, but they're 13th in the Series and need more consistency to their game. In Carlin Isles they have one man grabbing a lot of attention, though. Surely the fastest man ever to play international rugby with a personal best over 100 metres of 10.13 seconds.
Pool draw band 3: Canada, Portugal, Spain, Russia, Tonga, Zimbabwe
Canada - current Series ranking: 10th
Portugal - current Series ranking: 14th=
Spain - current Series ranking: 14th=
There's danger right across this band. As core teams on the Series, Canada, Spain and Portugal have all won decent victories this season against teams in bands one and two, the Canadians in particular showing consistent form right across the park and with some of the country's very best players taking them to 10th in the world. Portugal are England's bogey team this season, having beaten them twice, and of the other sides Tonga and Zimbabwe are capable of troubling anyone and have both beaten Scotland on the Series this season, Tonga having had two outings in Australia and New Zealand.
World Cup hosts Russia were disappointed with their only outing on the Series so far, in Dubai, but they will have the home support in Moscow on their side, and they'll know the conditions better than anyone.
Pool draw band 4: Japan, Hong Kong, Georgia, Tunisia, Philippines, Uruguay
Of the six sides in the fourth band to be drawn, only 'los Teros' of Uruguay have competed at the highest level on this season's Series, at the fifth round in Las Vegas. There they lost narrowly to Kenya in pool play and beat Portugal in knock-out play, which goes to underline the competitive edge right across the board in Sevens. Uruguay were the last of the 24 men's teams to qualify, having booked their place in Moscow by finishing second to Argentina at the South American championships in Rio on 24 February. We'll learn much more about them and all of these teams - except the Philippines - in Hong Kong in March, from where the best non-core team performers will go on to London to try and win core team status for next season, and also get all-important game time ahead of the Rugby World Cup.
The Philippines will not compete in Hong Kong, having concentrated all of their efforts this season on qualifying for the World Cup under the coaching eye of former US Eagles Sevens head coach, Al Caravelli.