HAWKEYE VIEW: THE STORYLINES OF HK

Fri, 03 Apr 2015 09:16
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EXCLUSIVE: RUGBY365 COLUMNIST MATT HAWKINS LOOKS AT THE STORYLINES THAT EMERGED FROM THE FAMOUS HONG KONG SEVENS TOURNAMENT.

Was it all that we hoped and dreamed for?

Without doubt, the Hong Kong Sevens in its 40th annual rendition lived up to all the hype.

It is still the best and brightest Sevens tournament on the World Series and in my eyes would be considered the crown jewel.

An amazing part to this years storyline is that the Hong Kong started to create two very specific storylines that will define the 2014/15 World Series and will give all of us some mouth watering action to follow very intently over the last three Sevens World Series legs.

We first have the race to the No.1 spot and the Sevens World Series title, which has come down to a three-horse race - between South Africa, who currently sit in first place, Fiji and New Zealand, who are second and third respectively.

Just three points separate those teams, from top to bottom.

Below that we have another race, the race for fourth place and the last automatic Olympic qualification spot - which has added a whole new dimension to this years Sevens World Series.

Moving in to Japan we have four teams that have the ability to take that spot and force the other three to go off and play through their Regional Qualification Tournaments.

Australia sits up top with 84 points. Below them there is England (78), Argentina (64) and the United States (63).

When we take a look at both races mathematically, there are a few things that logically make sense and others that are flat out shots in the dark.

The points break down is as follows
First Place - 22 points Cup Champion
Second Place - 19 points
Third Place - 17 points
Fourth Place - 15 points
Fifth Place - 13 points Plate Champion
Sixth Place - 12 points

The three points between the first place finish and the second place finish is enough to tie or topple the South African team if they find themselves in a Final with either Fiji or New Zealand and lose.

That race is incredibly tight and could go any way.

With that being said, the pressure is now on those three teams to finish inside the top two places of the next three tournaments. Every place and every point is going to count.

On the fourth place race, things get a little trickier.

Why?

Well let's look at the history books for this past year as that helps give us some kind on reference to each team.

Australia and England have both made a final this year. Australia, have never finished lower than sixth place. England, however, have - finishing in seventh spot twice, with the last time this past weekend in Hong Kong.

The next layer is the distance between England, who are currently fifth overall with 78 points and the 14 points that separates them from the sixth place team Argentina, who currently sit on 64 points. That is a massive gap and one that I believe is going to be incredibly hard to close.

The points difference between first in a tournament and sixth place in a tournament is 10 points. That unfortunately I believe creates a massive valley that would be exceedingly hard to leap frog.

Being what the Sevens World Series is, there is also a very strong possibility that a team from outside of this group could force there way in to the top bracket and even the final four like Samoa did this past weekend and also did in Australia, which completely throws everything out of whack.

For the top three they are secure and safe with automatic qualification almost guaranteed.

For Australia and England, there is maybe even more to play for and on the line than winning an Sevens World Series.

How can I say that?

Lets first look at England. Before the 2014/15 Sevens World Series started, England were given the Great Britain nomination for automatic qualification.

What does that mean?

Great Britain comprises of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. As we know Wales and Scotland have teams on the World Series and the hope was that England would qualify based on their past performances and it would free these countries up not to have to make serious decisions about the selection and formalities of the Great Britain team. If England do not finish inside the top four and fail to gain automatic qualification, then they are under real pressure to formalize that structure and get things in place sooner to make sure they qualify through their region. This of course also completely changes the make up of what that region will look like as far as qualification goes.

The qualification process
(To see how it workd, CLICK HERE!)

For Australia they will be thankful as the Oceania region has the potential to really throw a few surprises and with New Zealand and Fiji already qualifying you would assume that they would have a really good chance.

However, at the end of the day if they made it to a Final, with Samoa for example, it is one game that would decide their fate.

Anything is possible. The bounce of the rugby ball can be cruel to even the best team on the field and in a pressure cooker environment like that, it really does come down to a one-off game and possibly one poor decision.

Going in to this weekends Sevens Tournament in Japan, there is a ton to play for in both of these races.

At the bottom end of the table, Russia managed to play some great rugby and won the Qualification tournament and will be one of the 15 core teams on the Sevens World Series circuit for the 2015/16 season.

Unfortunately for Japan, they rode the wave, but were not able to really find their stride in the core setup and will be waived good-bye at the end of this year's series.

No doubt a lot was learnt and gained through the experience and they will be back.

By Matt Hawkins
@polarbearkzn

@rugby365com

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