Former England sevens captain Rob Vickerman previews the Las Vegas sevens.
The third and fourth rounds of the 2017-18 World Rugby Sevens Series saw Australia win their first home tournament in 16 years in Sydney, and Fiji win their first gold medal in New Zealand since 2010.
These stats show the competition has never been tougher. Throw in the fact four different winners have taken the gold medal so far (South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Fiji), meaning Vegas is all important for the teams outside of the top two to stop the mid season break-away.
The American Dream
It is fair to say that Las Vegas is prominent in the mind for many things, but perhaps not Rugby Sevens.
However, the event is now really growing into a wonderful international offering in it’s eighth year as the crowds now flock to the three-day event that always offers action on and off the pitch, in a typical American celebration of sports; think tailgating, big entertainment breaks, significant food offerings and the occasional military fly by in the US colours.
One to watch: Incredible work rate and a true leader on the pitch. Ben Pinkelman (@benpinkelman2) of @USARugby is your @HSBC_Sport one to watch at the #HSBC7s in Las Vegas this weekend pic.twitter.com/iixm2U7EQc— World Rugby Sevens (@WorldRugby7s) February 28, 2018
The home teams are always incredibly supported and this would be a catalyst for the game of rugby to wake the sleeping giant, especially so ahead of the Rugby World Cup Sevens in San Francisco this July.
Narrow minded rugby
The stadium houses a converted artificial US football pitch for the resident Las Vegas University (UNLV) team so dimensions are truly squeezed to make the pitch playable for rugby.
In the inaugural event there was little other than the concrete barriers adorned in posters, offering little cushioning as many of the wingers found out. Now the extra padded sidelines and slightly widened pitch – along with the somewhat experimental turf should provide a better surface for the players to adapt to the power runners that come into the game with the lack of width available for the pace-men out wide.
The tournament has been swept up by both South Africa and Fiji in recent times winning the last five between them, so teams will be looking to end their usual stronghold.
Is a three-day the way?
This tournament will be yet another three-day format (with two games each day), placing a fair amount of strain on the players from an emotional and physical point of view.
The unpleasant ‘day after’ feeling extension means the players will adorn the ‘cape of ignorance’ for how battered their bodies truly are once more. And on the physicality of this series, the sheer fitness levels and robustness of the players is continuing to develop, redefining the term resilience on a sevens pitch.
The teams and players are not only running faster, harder and further – they are also increasing mass across the board equating in some hugw collisions and breakdown blitzing.
England down, but not out
England are struggling to capitalise on their good start to this season, claiming bronze in Dubai.
They are a close and proud bunch, but the fine-margins of sevens mean they have to change little in terms of their application.
They are defensively the strongest team on the series, which is a huge positive given the aforementioned physicality, and should be a great foundation to their performances. England’s style of play on the narrow pitch will call upon the hugely skillful impact forwards, and in particular I am looking forward to seeing Mike Ellery and Harry Glover’s athleticism come to the fore, as well as Richard de Carpentier taking a more abrasive route through some doors rather than opening them.
Yet another pool draw with South Africa will be a good measure and lend well to a likely quarter final against Australia, or hopefully the hosts, USA – which will deliver an incredible atmosphere.