Across the 2017/18 HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series, HSBC are exploring the anatomy of a Rugby Sevens player, some of the most impressive athletes in world sport, by examining the importance of Body, Mind and Soul.
Brian O’Driscoll put his rugby boots on for the first time since retirement to experience first-hand how Rugby Sevens players prepare themselves for the punishing physical challenge of a HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series Game.
The ‘Death Zone’, a title borrowed from a term climbers use to describe the altitude at which breathing is almost impossible and even the simplest of tasks become impossible to complete, is a session designed to force the players to make decisions and perform skills in game situations whilst under extreme fatigue.
The session is used by the England Sevens team to put their body under the extreme stress that it will experience during a game of Rugby Sevens.
Series champions New Zealand achieved a perfect three-from-three record to set up a Cup quarter-final meeting with USA, while Australia’s three pool wins puts them head-to-head with England in the last eight.
Canada, third in the overall standings for 2016-17, will play France in their quarter-final, while Russia face Spain. The Challenge Trophy semi-finals will be Ireland v Japan and South Africa v Fiji.
As reigning Dubai champions, New Zealand will be looking to improve on their almost faultless series in 2016-17 where they lost just one of 30 matches. Black Ferns Sevens flyer and recently crowned World Rugby Women’s Sevens Player of the Year Michaela Blyde is eager that the team continues as they started.
“Morale is pretty high, it’s the first world series tournament and one of our favourites so we are on a really good high and can’t wait to play on day two,” she said. “No matter what team you play or how many tries you score or how often you win sevens is always a really tough game but it’s all about tomorrow.”
As the first of five tournaments on the 2018 series, Dubai holds added significance for the teams as they move toward Rugby World Cup Sevens in San Francisco next July. Points from the first two tournaments on the series will be added to their totals in 2016-17 to determine seedings at the prestigious event.
The Black Ferns Sevens were in unstoppable form on day one, putting a 40-0 win on the board against invitational side South Africa, with six different try scorers contributing.
A Portia Woodman double against France put the game out of reach as New Zealand closed out the match 28-7. Woodman also scored twice in their final pool match of the day against USA as New Zealand notched up seven tries in total to win 45-14.
It was a narrow 19-17 win against USA that kicked off France’s Dubai campaign and despite their loss against New Zealand, they managed to close out the day with a 29-5 win over South Africa, with Montserrat Amedee scoring a hat-trick.
USA finished the pool in third place and will now face New Zealand once more in the first Cup quarter-final on day two.
— Black Ferns (@BlackFerns) November 30, 2017
Rio 2016 gold medallists Australia started their day with a straight forward 27-0 victory over Japan, with four different try-scorers going over the whitewash.
An Emma Sykes double against England was crucial to their 22-7 win, despite Deborah Fleming giving the Red Roses the early advantage straight from the kick-off.
Additional tries from Dominique du Toit and Evania Pelite secured the win and gave Tim Walsh’s side confidence heading into their final match against Russia, who they beat 31-12 thanks to a stunning Emma Tonegato hat-trick.
Before their loss to Australia, Russia had clinched a crucial three points against England, the difference being Elena Zdrokova’s try in the dying seconds.
A 36-0 win over Japan, with a hat-trick from Zdrokova, secured them second place in the pool. England finished third overall, still qualifying as a runner-up to make the quarter-finals.
Canada topped the pool with a perfect three-from-three record. Julia Greenshields continued the blistering form she showed in the 2016-17 series, scoring a double against Spain in her side’s opener to help Canada to a 19-0 win.
John Tait’s side continued their form to beat Ireland 31-0, with five different try-scorers going over, and capped off their day with a 31-14 win over Fiji, Greenshields bagging a hat-trick in the process.
Spain, despite losing to Canada, managed to take two wins in the pool and finish second. A double from Amaia Erbina and score from Patricia Garcia helped them past Fiji 19-5, while two tries from Iera Echebarria gave them the momentum to beat Ireland 7-17.
The tournament continues on Friday and tickets are available on www.dubairugby7s.com or can be bought at the Gate.
— World Rugby Sevens (@WorldRugby7s) November 30, 2017
The All Blacks are seen as all-conquering, yet New Zealand’s women sevens team are arguably even more dominant than their male counterparts.
The Black Ferns come into the opening round of the 2017/18 HSBC Women’s World Rugby Sevens Series as defending champions, having won it for a fifth successive time last year. It gives Allan Bunting’s side a monopoly, with the women’s series having only made its debut in the 2012/13 season.
Their stranglehold on success elsewhere hasn’t been quite as vice-like. The Ferns lost 15-10 to Australia in the inaugural final of the Rugby World Cup Sevens women’s tournament, in Dubai in 2009, although they claimed the second title in Russia in 2013, beating Canada 29-12.
They were also beaten by old foes the Aussies in the Olympic Games final in Rio last year.
On the sevens circuit though they are peerless. Yet, despite claiming five of the six tournament wins last season and finishing 16 points ahead of fierce rivals Australia, the scary thing for New Zealand’s opponents is Bunting believes they can only get better.
“We certainly feel after our review last year that we were running at about 75 per cent of our potential, so there’s some huge amount of space for some gains and growth, so we’re focused on that,” said the man who took over the side a year ago, just a few weeks before the season opener in Dubai.
“We’re focused on doing things quicker and with a bit more intensity. There’s still a lot of growth left in our group.”
Asked if he was sounding out a warning to the rest of the field, he added: “It’s not really a warning, we just feel like we can still grow a heck of a lot. The management group too. So if we get better together we know we’ll be able to reach our potential.”
Bunting, who is a man with huge respect among sevens players, was urged to apply by a few members of the national team and replace former coach Sean Horan.
Despite the upheaval, there was no backwards step, as last year’s dominant World Series campaign confirmed. As the rise of the Black Ferns continues, they have overtaken the men’s team as the standard bearers of New Zealand sevens rugby.
But with a bigger target on their backs perhaps more than ever before, Bunting says his team feel under no pressure heading into Dubai.
“We’re totally focused on what our strengths are and areas we need to work on,” said Bunting.
“Our men’s group have a new management team and they’re a bunch of guys who will get more consistent as they’ve gone full time, so they’ll get a lot out of that. And they’ve got a lot of room for growth which will come in the next year or so.
WATCH 🎥 “We’ve got some real competition in our squad” – #BlackFerns7s coach Allan Bunting.
— Black Ferns (@BlackFerns) November 28, 2017
“We train close together and connect with the management groups and share ideas, so it’s a pretty good group, we’re all as one New Zealand Sevens.”
The rivalry with Australia has rocketed up a notch with both teams dominating the early era of women’s sevens rugby. And he sees last year’s runners-up as their main threat once again.
“Australia, they’re always a threat,” said Bunting.
“They’re a great side and one of the most consistent in the world so they’re definitely a threat. But every team is. We’re focused now on South Africa, France and the USA. The US beat us last year so we’re not looking past our first game. Then we go to the next one.”