By Alex Goff of RUGBYMag.com
Three days of rugby engulf Las Vegas starting Friday afternoon as the USA 7s kicks off. It’s actually four days, as the Las Vegas Invitational replete with over 230 7s and 15s teams playing in satellite tournaments starts on Thursday but the Sevens World Series event begins Friday at 4pm at Sam Boyd Stadium. And as usual, there’s no telling who will win.
In an enormously tough pool, England, Fiji, Scotland and Portugal take each other on. Until a week ago, England were in dire straits, having failed to make the Cup Quarterfinals in their first three tournaments. However, after a slightly shaky start, it all came together for the English, as they beat Kenya in overtime to win the Hertz 7s in Wellington.
England did it by fixing their defense and eking just a little bit more teamwork out of a unit still learning about each other. Can they recreate the magic in Las Vegas? They haven’t always had the best luck in Nevada, and while they have Dan Norton and his 19 tries, Fiji has Joji Raqamate and his 18, and a team of dazzling skill.
Scotland and Portugal both have the ability to upset either of these teams, but it looks like Fiji and England to be the top two based on recent form. In England’s case, very recent.
Kenya could say they should have won in Wellington, and they have the ability to win in Las Vegas, too. The big change for them is that they come into the World Series more power, more muscular, than before. Kenya is also finally seeing new stars shine, such as the classy Willy Ambaka and the rock-like Oscar Ouma. If they stay out of penalty trouble, everyone else will be in difficulty.
South Africa has power and speed, but is it all coming together? Maybe not quite right now. Uruguay is a bit of an unknown for most of these teams, and will bring a young, relatively untested side to Vegas. The team to watch out for is Canada. They have embraced the more physical style of modern 7s, play with abandon, and have Sean Duke, who leads the World Series with 21 tries.
New Zealand leads the World Series and they lead Pool C. Even if DJ Forbes is out injured, they can play in the cozy confines of Sam Boyd Stadium with anyone. We’ve already seen little Rocky Khan and long-legged Belgium Tuatagaloa break through this year.
New Zealand’s key opponents will be Wales, who have had some good showings this year. They faltered, however, in Wellington. So the door is open for Argentina and France, who both have shown flashes, but haven’t quite put it all together. This pool is New Zealand’s to lose.
Everyone likes to look for the “Pool of Death.” Is this it? Samoa has won Las Vegas twice in the last two years, and while they have a different lineup of players, the mix of strength, determination, and all-out pace is still there. Australia is young, but they don’t know what they don’t know, and the result was a winning the Plate in Wellington. Boy can they run, but will the narrower playing surface in Las Vegas hurt them?
This is also the pool for Spain, an up-and-coming team that has upset several teams so far, and the hosts the USA. The Eagles didn’t do well in Wellington, although they did tie the eventual champions England. However, as reported on RUGBYMag.com, there were some factor in their preparation that undercut their performance. In Las Vegas, they should be rested and more ready, and have the ability to make the top two in this pool.
Watch out for the USA forwards of Matt Hawkins, Zack Test, Colin Hawley, Blaine Scully, and Andrew Durutalo to break out this weekend.
It’s all to play for in Pool D, and that’s just fine, because it’s all to play for everywhere.