After two rounds of compelling action, the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2022 takes a break for Christmas with teams no doubt using the downtime to work out how they can end the dominant runs of South Africa’s men and Australia’s women.
Both teams claimed the opening two Cup titles in Dubai, with the Blitzboks holding a 10-point lead over double bronze medallists Argentina at the top of the men’s standings and Australia four points clear of Fiji, who they defeated in both finals, in the women’s.
It was the third time that Australia’s women achieved back-to-back wins at the start of a women’s Series, a feat that New Zealand have achieved twice.
Australia’s women, meanwhile, achieved back-to-back wins at the start of a women’s Series, something which had only been achieved four times before, twice by themselves and twice by New Zealand.
The two Oceania heavyweights have avoided each other in the pool draw for the next tournament in Malaga, Spain.
The world champion Blacks Ferns Sevens entered the draw as 11th seeds, having not played in the World Series since winning in Sydney in February 2020 due to the impact of COVID-19, and they will join Dubai double silver medallists Fiji and North American teams USA and Canada in Pool B.
Australia have got Spain, Ireland and the invitation side Poland in Pool A, while Pool C consists of Olympic silver medallists France, in-form Russia, improving Brazil and finally England, now that Great Britain’s involvement has ended.
The Black Ferns Sevens were last in competitive action in June when a clean sweep of wins saw them claim the Oceania 2021 title. But Australia are starting to work their way back up to the sort of form that won them the gold medal at the Rio Olympics, albeit with a largely different squad, and will be a different proposition if the teams eventually meet in the knockout stages.
Charlotte Caslick is one of those to remain on board from Rio and is in top form at present having claimed the DHL Impact Player of the Tournament award in Dubai.
And the double Olympian, aged just 26, is delighted by what her team have achieved so far but cannot wait for the challenge of facing the Black Ferns sevens in Malaga.
“Obviously, we have a bit of a new-look side and I think those girls really stepped up and did a great job,” she said post-Dubai.
“We had great energy throughout the week and I think that led onto the field. That was great within itself but for me, not having New Zealand there...I really want to beat New Zealand so I guess it’s great to get back on the winning side and you learn a lot from it.
“Hopefully it gives us confidence by the time New Zealand are back, and we can rip into them.”
Blitzoks face double British threat
Last weekend marked the third time in history both Australian teams made the Cup finals, and while the men failed to win the title, there was a marked improvement from one tournament to the next.
Having finished fifth in round one, they reached the final and gave the all-conquering South Africa a scare before losing 10-7.
Unlike the women’s draw, Australia have been paired with New Zealand in Pool B for the Malaga event, alongside Ireland and Japan. France, Kenya, Canada and Wales make up Pool C and games against Fiji, England and Scotland lie in wait for the reigning World Series champions South Africa.
Looking back on their fourth consecutive Cup title win, Blitzboks coach Neil Powell said they had more than one bump on the road to glory.
“It was a week full of challenges, dealing with the injuries of Muller du Plessis and Ryan Oosthuizen,” said Powell.
“The plan was to bring in Dewald Human and Angelo Davids as replacements, but unfortunately we couldn’t do that before the borders were closed for international flights.”
The injuries meant the Blitzboks only had 11 fit players, so some of the coaching staff (including Powell) had to jump in to make it two squads of seven players at training.
In winning all 12 matches in Dubai, the Blitzboks have extended their record winning run in the World Series to 24 matches – the third longest streak in men’s Series history after New Zealand (47 matches from 2007-08) and Fiji (26 in 2018).
Once again, they will be the team to beat in Malaga, even with New zealand back in the mix.