Sevens stars bidding to return in 2013
So far in this season's HSBC Sevens World Series, certain teams have had to make do without key players, and will be hoping they can return as soon as possible. With rounds four and five of the HSBC Sevens World Series, the Hertz Sevens in Wellington and the USA Sevens in Las Vegas, rolling on, we run the rule over the teams most hoping to welcome back key players.
Australia - Injury impact rating (IIR) : 9/10
One of the worst-hit by injuries, Michael O'Connor had to make do in Dubai and Port Elizabeth without his rampaging captain, Ed Jenkins, another forward powerhouse in Jesse Parahi, who was in great form on the Gold Coast, brilliant young playmaker Allan Fa'alavaau and flyers Shannon Walker and Lewis Holland. It's testament to the squad that they responded in PE to beat Dubai champions Samoa and claim the Bowl, and the squad will benefit from having blooded more players, but there's no getting around the fact that O'Connor was without at least five class players that he will be hoping to welcome back in Wellington.
England - IIR: 9/10
Of all the players Ben Ryan would have dreaded losing, Isoa Damu was top of the list and he will play no part this season, having suffered a potentially career-ending injury pre-season. To add to that, on the Gold Coast powerful forward Chris Cracknell injured a knee and Mat Turner an ankle - two more players who are almost impossible to replace within Ryan's full-time squad. Turner's success in returning from injury in time for Wellington is a major boost and Christian Lewis-Pratt also comes back into the side. The curse continued in Dubai, though, where the impressive Tom Mitchell limped home on crutches. The upside has been the form of Marcus Watson and Dan Norton, who have really stepped up, but England are currently ranked 13th in the standings - inside the relegation dog fight - and these key men cannot come back and start performing soon enough.
South Africa - IIR: 8/10
Paul Delport, Chris Dry and Cornal Hendricks were outstanding and Frankie Horne truly magnificent on home soil in Port Elizabeth, the latter captaining the side with pride and passion in the absence of usual leader, Kyle Brown. Brown suffered a broken leg in Dubai and can probably best hope to return in time for the Rugby World Cup Sevens in Moscow on 28-30 June. More immediately, coach Paul Treu will be hoping that Cecil Afrika's troublesome knee can heel properly for Wellington - it clearly troubled him on his return in PE - and that half back partner Branco du Preez can also come back. Mind you, in his absence Cheslin Kolbe has sprung up out of nowhere.
Canada - IIR: 7/10
By the end of the Nelson Mandela Bay Sevens in PE, Canada had almost as many players walking out for matches in trainers as they did in boots, and it showed in their results. Ciaran Hearn's pace was a massive loss and they also missed key men in Thyssen de Goede, John Moonlight and Jeffery Hassler. Geraint John has welcomed all four back for Wellington, and also added Rugby World Cup players Taylor Paris and Conor Trainor to really strengthen and send out a message.
Kenya - IIR: 6/10
Mike Friday may have dreamt of such a start to the season for the Kenyans, but whether he really thought it possible is another question entirely. Second-equal heading into round three, they're now sixth and sorely missed the rapier-like speed of Collins Injera out wide. If the impressive start is to continue, Injera needs to return, as do the likes of Sidney Ashioya, Biko Adema and Oscar Ouma, who all missed PE to sit exams.
Samoa - IIR: 6/10
How losing one man can make such a difference. Paul Perez was probably the outstanding player in Dubai and it was his two tries in the Cup final that set the Samoans on their way against New Zealand, before he was forced off injured. Coach Faamoni Lalomilo will be anxiously waiting to see whether Perez can make a recovery, in addition to another speedster, Tom Iosefo, who missed both Dubai and SA through injury.
France - IIR: 6/10
Frederic Pomarel shrugged and smiled as his side drew level with New Zealand in the PE Cup final at 7-all. Magnifique! Thereafter they paid the price for needing all of sudden death injury time to beat Argentina and reach the final, and were also up against a fine NZ side, but France have finally arrived in Sevens. Tough and physical, they base their game on defence and it's attritional at times, especially once they had lost their two flyers Julien Candelon and Renaud Delmas to injury. Candelon didn't play in PE at all and Delmas sat out the final. If they're still to be second in the Series standings after rounds four and five in Wellington and Las Vegas, they'll need one of them back, if not both.
Fiji - IIR: 5/10
There is sublime talent wherever you turn in Fiji, as was shown by coach Alifereti Dere blooding seven debutants en route to claiming the Cup title in Australia and seven more in Dubai. That said, there is only so much that can be expected of Setefano Cakau, Levani Botia, Joji Raqamate and Ilai Tinai, so the brilliant Alipate Ratu Raitini will be itching to return to the side in Wellington.
New Zealand - IIR: 5/10
Sherwin Stowers played no part in PE having suffered a hamstring injury and his pace out wide is an important ingredient to the NZ mix. Scott Curry has stepped up this season and returned home on crutches. Of less concern will be DJ Forbes' swollen mouth - he still performed his post-match interviews with admirable clarity and is tough as teak... On a serious note, Forbes' ability to stay fit, along with Tim Mikkelson, Tomasi Cama and Lote Raikabula, will be the single biggest factor in New Zealand's season, which culminates in a Rugby World Cup Sevens tilt in Moscow.
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