- England women sevens name Hamilton squad - read
Former England sevens captain Rob Vickerman previews the latest leg of the HSBC World Rugby sevens series in Hamilton.
Culture comes first
There is always a sense of an aura when you enter New Zealand, usually befitting to the cultural aspects that cannot go unnoticed as soon as you walk off the plane to a traditional Maori welcome. Travelling vast distances to a very isolated island also make this a special trip for the majority of teams, and when you are here there is a feeling of knowing you have come for a reason that focuses your mind. The rugby population know just how good New Zealand are in their national sport, so there is a large amount of respect for the games played in Hamilton. It is also noticeable how much more in the public eye players and teams are, which again drums up the levels of expectation and excitement.
The ‘Tron vs Wellington
Having made my first trip to Hamilton (nicknamed The Tron) for the Sevens last year I was a fascinated observer as to how the environment, build up and event would differ to Wellington, one of my all time favourite legs in years gone by.
I have the ‘cake tin’ in Wellington on an absolute pedestal, and with pride can say we achieved what very few England Rugby teams do in New Zealand - as we won here…twice. There used to be a three-mile procession down the capital’s high street with thousands of supporters and city workers lining the roads often dozens deep – but Hamilton has a much more humble view to the event, which has become an instant sellout and fans favourite.
There is a small-town feel to the whole town, which given it’s huge agricultural history, and main high street promenade liken it to a northern English town, no complaints from me there. This all adds up to a crescendo for what was one of the most exciting tournaments of the year – including a top three fancy dress effort from the fans and a festival (quite literally a fairground) out the back of the FMG Stadium; which had a brilliant balance of ‘enjoyment’, camaraderie and staunch support of the rugby, as you would expect.
Quite remarkably, New Zealand were not the most supported team – perhaps even down to third giving way to Samoa and Fiji – owing to the pacific influx in and around Auckland, but either way, it made for a quality spectacle as all of those teams lifted their performances.
Stars and Stripes get bragging rights
USA take the field at the weekend as top seeds of the HSBC World Sevens Series after the opening two legs.
However, it is now somewhat of a broadcasting cliché to talk of the “sleeping giant” when mentioning the USA, but the scale of how good they could become is frightening. For a country so sports obsessed with a blend of athletes in both number and sheer physical size and ability that would belittle any others nations’ pool of talent - we have yet to see just how good they can become, until recently.
From a wider perspective, the thing the USA Sevens needs more than anything else is continued success, as once traction is made in the headlines of US sports vernacular, people notice. This public profile would start the cycle of sponsors, sustainability and growing the game, which ultimately will then bring about more success. This is the constant challenge that Mike Friday, the ex-England coach, finds himself with – but what a prospect.
This season is their best-ever start to a campaign, and with two silver medal finishes for the States - we have seen their development of in-game understanding and tactical nuances, that now combines brilliantly with their x-factor players. Danny Barrett is now rivaling both Isles and Baker, the two racehorses, with moments of impact befitting to series contenders.
Pool of Pain
USA’s prominence as second seeds puts them in a pool draw with England, Samoa and Tonga (as the 16th team, invited to the next two legs).
England have a tough pool, largely as there a fewer teams more physical than Tonga and Samoa. As any Premiership supporter will testify, the wonderful abilities of many of the Pacific Islanders make them club favourites, mixing power, agility and guile in equal measure – now imagine taking on a team of them. England have the experience and ability to play around the physical teams, but with USA’s pace and form thrown into the mix as well, it will be a fantastic achievement for England to come out the pool top seeds, very much needed with South Africa the likely quarter-final cross over if they finish second.
Black Fern’s break ground
For a team so entrenched with success as double Rugby World Cup Sevens trophies and multiple series winners, it hard to believe this will be the first time that the Black Fern’s Seven’s outfit will play on home soil. They are hosting a mini-series, the Fast Four Event taking on France, China and England before the following week’s World Series leg in Sydney, and will be a worthy plaform to showcase their talents in a packed out stadium in the heart of Waikato Rugby’s Parish.