Dallen Stanford previews the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series in Cape Town

Team captains pose with the silverware on offer this weekend at Cape Town Stadium
©Mike Lee - KLC fotos for World Rugby

A week on from South Africa winning the men’s Cup and Australia winning the women’s Cup in Dubai, HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series commentator Dallen Stanford has previewed the Cape Town leg ahead of the weekend’s action.

Dallen Stanford is a Cape Town native. Before moving to America and captaining the Eagles on the Series, he grew up there and attended Rondebosch Boys High before enrolling at the University of Cape Town. 

So, when the World Series makes its way to Cape Town Stadium, it is an event circled in Stanford’s calendar. Of course, it wasn’t long ago that the world descended upon the city for the Rugby World Cup Sevens in which Fiji’s men and Australia’s women were crowned world champions.

What we learnt in Dubai

Last weekend, Australia’s women maintained their fantastic form. Series winners last campaign, World Cup winners and got the new season off to a fantastic start in the desert.

Having to overcome New Zealand in the Cup Final, it was a game in which the sheer explosive nature of Australia’s players which ultimately won them the tie and have three players in the Dream Team.

“Australia and New Zealand were a cut above the rest, contesting another outstanding Cup Final,” Stanford said. “The Aussie 7s had too much firepower, unlocking the Black Ferns 7s defence.

“Special mention to their Dream Team players from Australia too, Madison Ashby, Maddison Levi and Faith Nathan all having fine tournaments.”

Following a poor outing in Hong Kong, South Africa bounced back in impressive fashion to lift the Cup in Dubai. Beating a stubborn Ireland side in the final, it was an impressive tournament for James Topping’s team.

“Ireland, led by the fantastic Harry McNulty, reached their second Cup Final in history, continuing their form which saw them take bronze at the World Cup earlier this year,” Stanford said.

“Most of this group has been together for the past six years and that cohesion and chemistry is making a massive difference for them on the Series.”

Now the hosting a leg, the first back-to-back stages of the series this World Series season will offer huge intrigue as to how all the sides are developing at this still relatively early stage of a new campaign.

Case and point is South Africa. Their poor outing in Hong Kong to open the season up, several weeks back on the training paddock led to silverware and a shakeup in the final standings.

“South Africa bounced back from eighth-place in Hong Kong to dominate in the desert,” Stanford said. “It’s a venue that has seen them win seven of the past nine events at The Sevens Stadium.

“What’s amazing about the current Series is that the top four sides in Hong Kong [Australia, Fiji, France and Samoa], did not feature in the medal matches in Dubai, instead we saw excellent performances from South Africa, Ireland, New Zealand and the USA.”

Tight competition

In the women’s competition, Pool A with Ireland, Spain and South Africa, it is a somewhat favourable draw for Australia, while New Zealand are in Pool B with Fiji, Great Britain and Brazil. 

Emilie Bydwell’s USA side finished third overall a week ago and are in a challenging Pool C with France, Canada and Japan.

For the men, Pool B is perhaps the most intriguing animal. Following their second-place finish, Ireland will faceoff with Samoa, Uruguay and Japan, while Pool A will see South Africa, France, Fiji and Canada compete for a good seeding.

Pool C is going to be similarly interesting as New Zealand, Argentina, Kenya and Spain, while in Pool D Great Britain will compete with the USA, Australia and Uganda.

For whatever reason, this pool draws have taken on more meaning. In years gone by, it has been a simpler task working out who stands to gain good seating at the end of the group stage.

Coming into this leg in South Africa, Cape Town Stadium is going to see similarly close competition and making it all the more difficult for the commentators to call.

“Cape Town will be no different with some of the pool matches as tight as a boxers glove,” Stanford said. 

“In the men’s competition I can see three pools that will have some real challengers, with three teams vying for the two quarter-final spots in each of those. 

“It will also be special to see Uganda again this weekend, as they often bring the crowd to its feet. My likely top four in Cape Town is New Zealand, Samoa, South Africa and Fiji, but anything can happen.

“On the women’s side, I expect to see Fiji, France, Great Britain and Ireland to bridge the gap with Australia and New Zealand, who are again favourites to collide in the final unless their path doesn’t meet earlier.”