The former England Sevens player on who to watch in the 2014-15 HSBC Sevens World Series, and Olympic qualification...
By Chris Cracknell
NOT SO long ago, the highlight of the sevens circuit was the Commonwealth Games, which gives the game the international viewing platform it deserves. However, as we enter the 2014-15 HSBC Sevens World Series, there is an even greater sporting competition on everyone’s minds – the Olympics in 2016. It’s the dream every sevens player has been waiting for.
I’m sure any player, from any team, will be playing down the Olympics, trying to convince us that the focus is only on the next game or tournament. This will not be entirely true. The next year is the most important for every team on the circuit, with pressure to secure an Olympic place by finishing in the top four of the final standings.
So who will reach these top-four spots? I predict Fiji, New Zealand and South Africa to get three. Fiji will be stronger now Ben Ryan has a more full-time structure. Although I don’t think New Zealand will take the title this year, I do think they’ll end up in the top three. Their ability to perform on day two of tournaments keeps them there. South Africa continue to get stronger and are a growing force; they unearth raw talent and, mixed with veterans, they have a formidable platform.
This leaves one spot up for grabs. Eyes will be on England and Samoa, who are rebuilding, while the other contenders are Australia and Canada, who both finished strongly last season.
For me, Australia will take fourth spot because Ed Jenkins and his men will not have to rebuild as they had to in the early part of previous seasons. This will make a telling difference to the men in gold.
Even without the carnival of Rio 2016 on the horizon, this is sure to be another cracking, action-packed Sevens Series. It kicks off in Australia this month and here are my five individuals to watch…
Kyle Brown, South Africa
Injured at the Commonwealths, the talismanic captain is back. He has the complete game. He marshals troops in defence, alongside Frankie Horne, and is a shrewd operator at the breakdown.
Aisake Katonibau, Fiji
A forgotten man of sevens. After a sabbatical from the international stage, he is playing at centre and is set to cause havoc, as he did in London in 2012.
Tim Mikkelson, NZ
Nominated for Player of the Year twice, he’s won once and is key to his team’s success. The most instrumental player on the circuit.
Christian Lewis-Pratt, England
With Tom Mitchell out, the pressure of playmaker falls to him. He is certainly capable; he can win events almost single-handedly.
Geraint John, Australia
A coach I have greatly admired over the years. He has a calmness about him and a fantastic man-management ethic.
Watch highlights from the Gold Coast Sevens below!
This column was published in the November 2014 edition of Rugby World. To subscribe to the magazine & get the pros’ views every month, click here.