The Men’s and Women’s tournaments in Russia back in 2013 were going to be the last 7s World Cups after the game’s successful entry into the Olympics. There has not been a 7s World Cup for either Men or Women since. The Luzhniki, the same stadium in Moscow that drenched the French and Croatian PMs after the World Cup football final last week, also saturated us all to the bone back in 2013. The deluge delayed the Men’s final where I had taken the England team for a chance of being crowned World Champions. The conditions were ridiculous.
Lightning storms and shut down
The semi final between Fiji and New Zealand was stopped with lightening and storms looming. New Zealand were 10-0. I was coaching England and when I turned around to start my part of the warm up in the dead ball area the players on the field had vanished. New Zealand and Fiji finally emerged once the weather permitted, but the ten point cushion New Zealand had before the storm was too much for Fiji to claw back. Then we took to the field of play, now more like a swimming pool, to win our semi final and face the Kiwis in the final.
The next couple of hours were a mess. Electricity had been shut off in the players’ area, our supplements and food we brought with us had disappeared, and the meal area for teams was shut. No food for the players, a final soon to be played, and soaking kit to try to dry.
Aquaplanes and takeaways
I decided to take some of the players into the public areas of the stadium and to the supporters bars to try to get something to eat. I was sitting there wearing full England match kit, á la John Terry, as all my clothes were soaked. I bought the players terrible fried food from the fast food outlets, but this was the only option. I could feel the spirit of Sir Clive Woodward talking about the extra little percentages he got for the last England team to win a World Cup in 2003 smacking me on the back of my head!
The final itself was one way traffic. We never got anything going, and in the wet, players like DJ Forbes were quite masterful. The atmosphere was strange with the stadium empty of spectators, but I was proud to get a team to the final of a World Cup. Despite this, for me anyway, it was a flat day and nailed down my feelings that I needed to leave the England programme.
World Cup Sevens 2018
This weekend the 7s World Cups for Men and Women return! I don’t think we will have any of the issues we faced in Moscow. As I’m writing this the sun is shining and the breeze is blowing, as it always does here. The magnificent AT&T Park, the stadium for this weekend’s tournaments, replaced the world famous Candlestick Park with a design that reduces the wind in the stadium. Conditions will not have a part to play this time around!
Ticket sales are also amazing with over 100,000 sold and the tournament live on NBC. The players are going to LOVE this.
No, the 7s World Cup is not an Olympic Games, and I’d also say that winning the overall HSBC World Sevens Series is a greater prize too. But with the rise of non Commonwealth teams in International 7s, success in the 7s World Cup is certainly a bigger achievement than in the Commonwealth Games.
The format for both the Men’s and Women’s World Cups this year is straight knockout; no pool matches. New Zealand are the current holders for both tournaments.
Men’s World Cup
In the Men’s tournament there will be plenty of surprises, but the big guns are all carrying some serious arsenal. Fiji top that with a team arguably as strong as the team that won Rio Gold; world class players in their ranks in both 7s and XVs and keen to put on a show. There is a huge number of Pacific supporters in the Bay Area, and although there might not be much wind in the stadium, there is going to be a considerable storm of support behind Fiji this weekend who are the very firm favourites.
Behind Fiji there are a clutch of other teams: South Africa, New Zealand, England, and the USA, all next in line. But I say this with 100% seriousness: I think at least THIRTEEN TEAMS could win this weekend. The knockout format plays its part but we have a game now where so many teams have the potential to win this tournament. Wales came from the shadows in 2009 and pulled off a coup many aspiring dictators would have been proud to achieve. Wales created a momentum that got stronger and stronger. It happens, and for one team this weekend it will all come together in the perfect storm.
Women’s World Cup
The Women’s tournament also throws up some very strong teams. The last World Cup final was played between New Zealand and Canada, with the Kiwis emerging victorious. Australia and France have to be considered as firm contenders alongside the previous finalists. Hosts USA are a handful and will be very physical and England have some excellent players that have got a big game win in them. The Russians have been consistently strong over the last couple of seasons and Fijiana has got a serious offloading game that will worry all their opponents.
Although there isn’t the same amount of teams in the Women’s game capable of taking the title as there is in the Men’s, the Women’s game is on the increase, and the skills, fitness and game awareness of these international athletes are certainly toe-to-toe with the Men’s game. We have seen some titanic games this season between the teams and so often on the buzzer; games have been won or lost such is the competition rising upwards. The Commonwealth 7s final between Australia and winners New Zealand was seismic! It can easily be argued that players like Charlotte Caslick and Portia Woodman could be considered the best sevens players on the planet.
Make sure you watch and admire the skills of all the teams this weekend. I have no doubt that some of the best battles on the field will be in the Women’s tournament. And across the board there will be some amazing talent on show; and long may the Men’s and Women’s teams playing together in a format like this continue.
International 7s has been played in a baseball stadium before: Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres, and the last team to win there was Argentina.
The last Men’s International 7s tournament in the United States was in Vegas this year. The hosts won it for the first time ever. Watch the amazing documentary HSBC have commissioned called the Pioneers, screened on NBC later this week.
Australia or New Zealand have featured in all bar two of every final since the Women’s World Sevens Series began in 2012.
Australia and New Zealand were neither involved in the USA 7s in Houston in 2013 when England Women’s beat hosts USA 29-12, and Sydney 2017 when Canada beat the USA 21-17 to win that tournament.
Only one red card was dished out all season in the HSBC Sevens World Series; Fijiana the recipients.
Camille Grassineau of France has made far and away the most tackles this season: 115 in total.
No venue has been set for the next RWC 7s. Exciting to see how the game develops.