Rugby Sevens takes the stage at the Commonwealth Games
Rugby Sevens has been no stranger to the Commonwealth Games but on Friday, history will be made with Women’s Sevens making its debut, and about time too!
One of the history-makers will be England Women, whose Head Coach James Bailey has picked an experience side. Claire Allan, Abbie Brown, Emily Scarratt, Natasha Hunt, Heather Fisher, Emily Scott and Amy Wilson Hardy won’t be worried by the pressures that come with competing at the Games as they’ve all competed in the Rio Olympics. They’ll be hoping for a better result this time though after a fourth place finish in 2016.
England’s first game on day one in Pool B is against Fiji. They last met in the World Series Challenge Trophy Final in Sydney in January. England won then, and I think a good start again, will be paramount because up next is Olympic champions Australia. Then on day two, England will finish off the pool against Home Nations rivals Wales.
The season so far…
England have had a tough season on the World Series. Although they have some experienced names in the squad, there is a lot of young players too so the team have been finding their feet. They finished eighth in Dubai and ninth in Sydney, though have showed lots of potential along the way too, and that’s why I think they’re capable of making the semi-finals of these Games. If they do, they’ll most likely meet New Zealand or Canada; two teams they know very well but haven’t tasted too much success against.
My England player to watch is Jess Breach, the youngest player of the squad at just 20. She lit up the world of rugby when she made her debut for England XVs in the 2017 autumn internationals against Canada, scoring six tries. In the Sydney Sevens, she scored nine tries over the tournament. She is a player who is new to the game, so defensively still has a lot to learn, but with ball in hand and space in front she has plenty of gas to burn, and that’s what you need in Sevens.
Head coach Simon Amor has selected a strong side consisting of seven Olympic Silver medalists. And he has showed his intention that he wants the team to come back with gold, having opted to focus on the Games and send an inexperienced side to compete in the Hong Kong Sevens last weekend.
England are in Pool B and first up is Jamaica, who are a team full of pace, but lack experience. England then face the force of Samoa. Coached by the legendary Gordon Tietjens who masterminded New Zealand’s Sevens successes for many years. They will be a handful, and a team England cannot take likely considering they knocked England out of the competition in the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. To finish the pool England take on Australia in what could possibly be the pool decider.
Pool B is tough and with there being no quarter finals, there’s no room for error. Only the top ranked teams from each pool progress to the semi-finals, so England will need to be on top of their game. We haven’t really seen the best of England since the Dubai leg of the World Series in December, when they won Bronze, but they are a team who are capable of bringing home a medal.
My England players to watch include Dan Norton, the all time leading try scorer in the history of the World Sevens Series. He is the ultimate super sub, a man who can win games on his own. Tom Mitchell and Dan Bibby are also at the heartbeat of the team, pulling the strings and often creating something out of nothing.
Medal Contenders – Women
This battle will be between Australia, New Zealand, Canada and England. Olympic champs Australia have looked strong on the Sevens Series, winning gold in Dubai and Sydney, and are favourites to do it on the Gold Coast. Charlotte Caslick is their star player.
New Zealand have been in quarantine following an outbreak of mumps, which unfortunately has seen Ruby Tui withdrawn from the squad. This disruption is not ideal but knowing New Zealand this will not faze them. Portia Woodman and Michaela Blyde will be their players to watch.
Canada have been a team on the up and finished third in Sydney in January. They will be without their superstar Jen Kish due to injury, but Ghislaine Landry and Bianca Farella will be the players to watch.
Medal Contenders – Men
I think this battle will be between Fiji, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Kenya. Australia took gold in Sydney in January and the home crowd definitely played their part.
Fiji won gold at the Rio Olympics and will be favourites to do it again following their fourth consecutive win in Hong Kong last weekend. They are coming into this tournament in good form and will be hard to stop.
South Africa are defending Commonwealth champions. They’ve brought a strong team, but will be without the instrumental Kwagga Smith who has Super Rugby commitments and speedster Seabelo Senatla who is injured.
New Zealand are a constant threat. They won silver in 2014 in Glasgow, but they haven’t featured in the top three of the Sevens Series since the Cape Town World Series leg in December. They are also missing some key players due to injury.
Kenya are another team you can’t discount. They reached the final of the Hong Kong Sevens last weekend, beating New Zealand along the way, so will be full of confidence going into the Games.
Catch all the Rugby Sevens action with me on the BBC this Friday, Saturday and Sunday in what I’m sure is going to be a thrilling tournament.