Ahead of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series return to North American shores, former Eagles international and current World Rugby commentator Dallen Stanford has offered his insight on how the biggest show of rugby is shaping up.
“Santiago Gomez Cora is one of the all-time sevens greats,” Stanford told TRU. “As a player he had the uncanny ability to beat defenders, often kicking the ball and scoring, netting him a record 230 tries.
“During his career, Argentina won two titles – 2004 in Los Angeles and 2009 in San Diego. Now as a head coach, his side has an Olympic bronze and have won two Series stops – Vancouver in 2022 and Hamilton earlier this year.
“His side is playing some extraordinary rugby, which was on full display in that epic final against New Zealand and included such a tense finish.”
Argentina did certainly impress in Hamilton. They beat the host nation in a stunning final, but clearly peaked and placed ninth overall a week later in Sydney.
In New South Wales, it was New Zealand that ended the weekend with some silverware, not letting South Africa register any points in a whitewash win and vanquishing those demons from a weekend prior.
Thanks to their fourth podium on the trot, Clark Laidlaw’s team have a nine point lead in the overall standings and will be looking to make their trip to the Northern Hemisphere count.
Despite losing the Cup Final in Sydney, the Blitzboks are second in the standings and have Samoa, France, Fiji, Argentina and the USA trailing closely behind.
“France impressed me with their win over Australia in Sydney, reaching the top four in consecutive weeks,” Stanford said. “Fiji picked up bronze but would be disappointed not to have contested the Cup Final after South Africa ended their hopes in the semi-finals.
“The South Pacific side has not played with the same consistency that won them the Rugby World Cup Sevens last year.”
Ireland have been unable to recapture the form from Dubai which saw them finish second in Dubai, while Australia haven’t found the podium since the opening leg of the Series in Hong Kong last November.
Now nearly five months since their introduction to the World Series as Great Britain, both the men’s and women’s teams have slowly been finding their feet as a new entity.
Neither side has found their way to top three finishes and as things stand the men’s side, are 10th in their standings, the women seventh and have certainly caught the eye.
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“Great Britain picked up where they left off in Hamilton [fifth place], winning two pool games and just losing a nail-biter to USA in their final pool match by two points,” Stanford said.
“They then faced the Eagles in the quarter-finals, with one score separating the teams and so close to the semi-finals. And it was quality to see Jaz Joyce scoring for GB again.”
Following an 11th place finish in Hamilton, GB’s men were able to improve their fortunes just a week later in Sydney thanks to placing seventh overall.
Not playing in Los Angeles, the women’s World Series has moved past its halfway point. As things stand, New Zealand are 12 points clear at the head of the competition having won three of the first four legs so far this campaign.
Australia are second, although their home tournament was by far their worse in recent memory. Placing fifth on home soil was certainly not their intention and now have an uphill battle if they want to back up last season’s championship.
Emilie Bydwell’s Eagles are third in the women’s standings, while France are in joint fourth alongside Ireland, who have constantly made the third-place playoff match.
“France were the surprise package in Sydney, much to the anguish of Australia fans after knocking them out of the quarters,” Stanford said.
“Then they shocked the USA in the semi-finals, before falling short to another fantastic New Zealand performance.”
With the women’s competition only having three legs left and the men’s competition increasingly hard to call, this season of World Series action is among the best in recent memory.
It is made all the more intriguing with the top four sides in each competition gaining automatic qualification to the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.
A real reward for a season’s hard graft, it is increasingly hard to call and North America is well known for offering up some big surprises.
Los Angeles is up first this weekend, the men’s competition taking place in America before the women join in British Columbia a weekend later.
Pool A: New Zealand, Samoa, USA, Chile
Pool B: South Africa, Ireland, Uruguay, Canada
Pool C: Fiji, Australia, Kenya, Japan
Pool D: France, Great Britain, Argentina, Spain