As the world’s best sevens sides assemble for the 18th edition of the world famous Dubai Sevens, Iain Spragg runs the rule over the teams hoping to topple the reigning HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series and Olympic champions, Fiji
Six-time champions in Dubai, the 2016-17 season is a new era for the once all-conquering All Blacks following the departure of Sir Gordon Tietjens as head coach in September after 22 glorious years at the helm and an unprecedented 12 World Series crowns. The Kiwis, however, haven’t claimed the World Series title since 2014 and will be looking to the interim coaching regime of former World Series specialists Scott Waldrom and Tomasi Cama to revive fortunes.
No one was more prolific in 2015-16 than wing Seabelo Senatla with 66 tries and his extraordinary exploits earned him the coveted World Rugby Men’s Sevens Player of the Year accolade. Champions in Dubai for a fourth time in 2014, South Africa return to The Sevens Stadium buoyed after their recent bronze medal at the 2016 Olympics in Rio.
The closest the Australians have come to glory in Dubai was in 2014 when they were beaten in the Cup final by South Africa. Andy Friend’s side finished fourth in the overall standings in 2015-16 and will once again be looking to teenage speedster Henry Hutchison, top scorer for the Wallabies with 27 tries in what was his debut season, for a cutting edge this year.
The Pumas registered a best-ever fifth in the final standings for the 2015-16 World Series and are three-time winners of the Plate in Dubai. Head coach Gómez Cora will need to remodel his squad following the side’s dramatic quarter-final exit at the Olympics this summer, losing to Great Britain in extra time, as Argentina look to register a first Cup crown in 2016-17.
Head coach Simon Amor steered Team GB to a surprise silver medal at the Rio Olympics in the summer but will be looking for a vast improvement on the Red Rose’s disappointing eighth place finish in the 2015-16 World Series. England have triumphed four times in Dubai, most recently in 2011, but lost in the Cup final to Fiji 12 months ago.
The Simbas sprung arguably the greatest World Series shock in April when they triumphed 30-7 over Fiji in the Cup final of the Singapore Sevens. Kenya have a new head coach this season – former skipper Innocent Simiyu – and in 30-year-old Collins Injera, they boast the most prolific try scorer in the history of the World Series.