Gold Coast Sevens: Key Clashes
With the pool draw recently made for the opening round of the HSBC Sevens World Series in Australia, already we can look forward to some mouth-watering clashes.
The script for day one of the Gold Coast Sevens - Fever Pitch could scarcely have been better written. Here are just a few of the key clashes on the opening day of the season at Skilled Park.
DJ Forbes (NZ) v Frankie Horne (RSA): A match-up to savour between two of the real heavyweights of Rugby Sevens. Last season Forbes led New Zealand to their 10th World Series title and is a nailed-on certainty to captain the All Black Sevens as long as he is fit and willing. He and his men will face a physical battle from the word go in the shape of USA and Canada, but it will step up a notch with big Frankie and co. A veteran of the Series under coach Paul Treu, Horne is as strong as an ox and will confront Forbes head-on. His ball-winning ability and barn-storming runs are crucial if South Africa are to capture the Cup title that eluded them all of last season.
USA v Canada: No real explanation necessary here: this rivalry is age old and sparks fly whenever the two sides meet. For the last few seasons the USA have enjoyed ever-present core team status on the Series, while Canada looked on and quietly prepared for their re-entry. Now one of 15 core sides, the Canadians are tough to pick a way through and often to stop with the silky skills of Nathan Hirayama and Sean Duke. Alex Magleby has had his first off-season in charge of the Eagles, so it will be interesting to see how they line up and play.
Fiji v Australia: two of the five Cup winners last season, the sides are due to play the last match of day one at Skilled Park. Both will face tough warm-ups in the shape of Tonga and Scotland, the latter now under the coaching guidance of former England Sevens captain Phil Greening, but this is the one the locals will flock to see. The hosts finished fourth last season on the Gold Coast, while the Fijians took the title but the form guide makes interesting reading with Australia having recently won the Oceania Sevens.
Fiji v Tonga: also worthy of special mention, simply for the kind of island rivalry the fixture guarantees. Last season Tonga beat the Fijians in the Wellington pool stages to prove anything is possible.
Ben Ryan (ENG) v Mike Friday (KEN): With former England assistant coach Phil Greening now in charge of Scotland and former England head coach Mike Friday in charge of Kenya, it was only a matter of time before one of them faced off against the current man in charge, Ryan. The pool draw for the Gold Coast guaranteed that Ryan would face Friday on the first day of the new Series, and the match schedule went one further by making their clash the first of the season. Will make for interesting viewing on and off the pitch.
Elsewhere in the pool, Spain are given a bruising start to life as a core team with a match against 2009/10 Series winners, Samoa. The Spaniards almost beat them in their pool clash in Glasgow earlier this year, only for the islanders to come through 24-17 with two late scores.
Argentina v Wales: Next year the best sides in the world will compete in Moscow at the Rugby World Cup Sevens 2013, all aiming to emulate the feats of these two sides in reaching the 2009 Cup final. Paul John's Wales edged a fine match and ever since there has been an added spice to any encounter between the sides. Four years ago both nations managed to retain talent and build formidable units in preparation for the World Cup - it will be interesting to see if both enjoy the same continuity this time around.
There is an extra edge to France's match against Portugal in the pool. The French have enjoyed core team status for many years and look to be improving with core contracts signed under coach Frederic Pomarel. Portugal are coming back as a core team this season and finished second behind England in the Euro 7s Grand Prix Series, ahead of the French.
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Gold Coast Sevens 2011 - Seven of the best tries!
13-14 October 2012
Venue: Skilled Park
City: Gold Coast