After 24 games and 1033 points tallied across two weekends of summer sevens action, attention now turns to the Ricoh Arena in Coventry, where on Sunday (7th August) eight teams will battle it out for the 2016-17 season’s first piece of silverware.
N.B. Upon completion of the quarter-finals, the winners will progress to the semi-finals whilst the losers will be placed into a plate competition. All fixtures are expected to be resolved by 18:25.
Cardiff vs Sale (14:00)
The day’s first game sees Cardiff Blues match up with Sale Sharks. Cardiff ran rampant over the rest of the ‘Welsh Group’ a fortnight ago, topping Group A unbeaten with two additional bonus points for a 14 points haul.
Sale, meanwhile, finished second in Group D having bounced back from a disappointing opening loss to Newcastle with two commanding victories over Leicester and Worcester to secure progression to Finals Day.
As ever with rugby, so much in determining the result comes down to what happens at the time on the pitch, but the Blues’ earlier form that saw them emerge triumphant over all three of their fellow regions despite some very close results suggests it will be Cardiff who will hold the ascendancy when the fixtures inevitably tighten up as the final draws closer.
Prediction: Cardiff Blues 24 – 21 Sale Sharks
Player to watch: Paolo Odogwu (Sale Sharks)
A summer signing from Leicester, Odogwu won player of the round for his eight-try haul last Saturday. Strong, quick and with feet to make Gene Kelly jealous, Odogwu has already drawn significant comparisons with Christian Wade, whose single-day try-scoring record he broke last week.
Exeter vs Northampton (14:25)
Sunday’s first all-Premiership clash sees Exeter Chiefs take on Northampton Saints. The Chiefs topped Group B handily, like Cardiff going unbeaten in the pool stage, albeit with two comprehensive wins over Bristol (36-5) and Bath (33-5) before inching a third over Wasps (26-19). That Exeter finished every game with an additional try bonus point is indicative of the attacking prowess eminent throughout their sevens delegation.
Northampton will enter this game as clear underdogs, having progressed as runners-up in Group C by virtue only of their 27-17 victory in a winners-take-all clash with Gloucester in Friday’s final game. Exeter’s prepotent attack should overwhelm Northampton at the Ricoh.
Prediction: Exeter 33 – 19 Northampton
Player to watch: Sam Simmonds (Exeter Chiefs)
The Chiefs’ Sevens captain led by example at Sandy Park a fortnight ago, playing a decisive role in the win over Wasps with two superb individual scores. A back-rower by trade, Simmonds’ lightning pace and elusive feet, combined with his powerful running make him nearly unguardable in the wide channels. Will be a major player in determining the final standings at the Ricoh.
Wasps vs Harlequins
Sunday’s hosts Wasps will hope for a raucous crowd at the Ricoh to elicit something of a home-field advantage against probable tournament favourites Harlequins.
Harlequins impressively dispatched Saracens, Northampton and Gloucester with a trademark flowing, open gameplan last Friday, advancing to the Ricoh at a canter atop Group C with a maximum 15-point haul.
Erstwhile, Wasps secured a return to their home ground with two clinical displays against Bath (36-21) and Bristol (22-14) to open festivities a fortnight ago before defeat to Exeter (26-19) bumped them down to second place. Whether that final defeat will carry anything of a psychological hangover into Sunday could determine their knockout clash.
Off the back of their earlier form, Harlequins, along with Exeter, should be considered tournament favourites so this one should go the way of the South-West Londoners.
Prediction: Wasps 17 – 26 Harlequins
Player to watch: Jonas Mikalcius (Harlequins)
Snatched up from Hartpury College on a dual-registration deal last season, Lithuanian winger Jonas Mikalcius made an immediate impact for his new club Harlequins last Friday. At 17st, and 6ft 3’ Mikalcius is a giant of a winger with the ability to both run through and around people, which he did to the tune of three tries at Franklin’s Gardens. Has more than a shade of Nemani Nadolo to his game.
Newcastle vs Ospreys
The last quarter-final is another Anglo-Welsh clash that sees Group D winners Newcastle matchup with Group A runners-up Ospreys.
The Falcons had something of an up-and-down day last Saturday, crushing Sale Sharks 31-12 then narrowly falling to Worcester 24-21 before rounding off the day with a convincing 26-17 win over Leicester that cemented themselves as Group winners.
Ospreys, likewise enjoyed a back-and-forth round of action in the Welsh group, falling marginally to Cardiff 17-15 before rousing themselves with a 21-19 win over Newport and a clinical 24-5 finish against Scarlets.
This could possibly be the closest of all four quarter-finals but Newcastle’s storied history of Sevens achievement (they were unbeaten at home in the competition until defeat to Worcester, and won the 2011 tournament) should give them a narrow edge.
Prediction: Newcastle 21 – 17 Ospreys
Player to watch: Harrison Orr (Newcastle Falcons)
A bulldozing forward capable of being deployed at lock, flanker or number eight, Harrison Orr, signed from Ealing Trailfinders this summer, made an immediate impact for his new employers on Saturday scoring with his very first carry against Sale Sharks. A former Australia U20 international, Orr’s versatility is far better suited for the 15-man game, but his powerful ball-carrying and imposing physical presence (6ft 3’, 18st 1lb) makes him ideal for use as a battering ram against smaller forwards in Sevens.
Team of the Rounds (so far)
1. Lewis Ludlam - Northampton
2. Sam Simmonds - Exeter
3. Harrison Orr - Newcastle
4. Dane Blacker - Cardiff
5. Joe Simmonds - Exeter
6. Jonas Mikalcius - Harlequins
7. Paolo Odogwu - Sale