Commonwealth Games gold medalists South Africa will face African rivals Kenya, Wales and American Samoa in the opening round of the HSBC Sevens World Series at Australia’s Gold Coast on October 11 and 12, the IRB announced on Tuesday. Defending champions New Zealand will play Samoa, France and Japan on the first day of the new season. After finishing as runners-up to New Zealand in 2012/2013, Australia will be looking to go one better on home soil this season. They line up against Fiji, Scotland and Portugal at Cbus Super Stadium, formerly known as Skilled Park.
In the fourth pool England and Argentina will kick off the Series on the Saturday morning, and they will be joined by the USA and Canada. Every match this season will feature a new level of passion and excitement as the teams vie for the four direct qualification spots for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Last season, the Springbok Sevens played in five tournament finals and bagged two titles, which allowed them to finish comfortably in second place on the final standings behind New Zealand.
Neil Powell’s team, however, finished the season on a high note by winning gold at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. Powell, a World Series winner with the Springbok Sevens in 2009, admitted that his team will be under immense pressure as they seek to go one better in the World Series this season. “Our success in Glasgow has probably stuck a huge target on our backs because teams would always want to get the better of a winning team. Our aim though will be to strive for consistency, keep our feet firmly on the ground and to concentrate on our targets for this season,” said Powell.
Reacting to the draw, which sees his team drawn once more against Kenya and the strong Welsh outfit, Powell said the last few seasons proved that there were no easy group matches, “The World Series is a tough competition and all the teams are competitive, so the focus will be on maintaining the momentum and playing high-intensity rugby in each match. A slip in concentration or a lapse in attitude will cost us dearly, and with Olympic qualification serving as an extra incentive there is no doubt this will be the hardest season ever.” Avan Lee, IRB’s General Manager for Sevens said: “The 2014/15 HSBC Sevens World Series promises to be the most exciting season of Sevens to date.
With Olympic qualification at stake, all teams will want to start well in the Gold Coast. Reigning Series champions New Zealand and Commonwealth Games winners South Africa might start as favourites but a number of teams like Fiji, England, Australia and Canada are also desperate to gain direct qualification into the 2016 Olympics in Rio.
Photo courtesy: Wessel Oosthuizen