HAWKEYE VIEW: Let the roller coaster ride begin

Thu, 03 Dec 2015 13:27
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EXCLUSIVE: RUGBY365 COLUMNIST MATT HAWKINS RETURNS TO LAUNCH THE FIRST ROUND OF THE 2015/16 WORLD SEVENS SERIES AND ITS POSSIBLE IMPACT ON TEAMS' OLYMPIC MEDAL PROSPECTS.

We are hours away from the biggest year in Sevens history and there is no more fitting event than Dubai to kick it all off.

Let's look first at the year ahead and the major changes we all need to be aware of.

Firstly with the new relegation and promotion process that has been adopted by the Sevens World Series, we saw Japan lose out to Russia - who won promotion and earn full-time (or core team) status.

Secondly the format has changed from a nine-tournament Series to 10 stops on the World Series. We have seen some countries lose their hosting rights in the series and others switch host cities.

This is what it looks like:

With the addition of Cape Town, Singapore and Paris I believe that this is the best platform we have ever seen for the World Series. It will take on a whole new dimension in terms of spectator attendance and people willing to travel to destinations such as those mentioned above to watch a tournament, but also indulge in the beauty and culture of the host cities.

The Cape Town tournament, which follows Dubai, has been sold out for a week or so already - which is massively impressive after George and Port Elizabeth's struggles.

The next crucial piece of information is the format has been shortened, meaning that the time from the first tournament through to the last, has seen the season shrunk in to a smaller window, but with more tournaments.

The two biggest factors that contributed to this were the 15-a-side World Cup in England and then the Olympics in 2016.

That means that there is a shorter turnaround time between tournaments - which places a significant amount of pressure on the players and coaches when laying out the season, but also the planning that is involved with your squad and keeping everyone healthy and functioning at optimum level come game time.

This I believe is going to be the largest factor to the success of a team.

The medical staff of each team, are going to have an uphill battle this year.

This highlights the next significant change to the look of the Series. Rugby World Cup 2015 is now over and there are certain players who now have their sights set on the Olympics and achieving a remarkable double by participating in a World Cup and also an Olympic Games.

The players, however, are not the only ones looking to be a part of this historic year in Sevens.

There are definitely countries and management teams that are very active in recruiting for the Sevens world.

We see that South Africa, New Zealand and Australia have all drawn on that talent pool that previously was left alone. As the year goes on that will provide more and more opportunities for countries to take a look at possible cross-over players, but also combinations.

For some countries that added player pool bolsters them tremendously for the shortened and more compact season ahead.

Of course the most significant change is the culmination of the Series at the Olympic Games.

The road that is laid out in front of us is almost finished - 12 teams will participate in the Olympics.

Eleven teams have already qualified.
1 Fiji
2 South Africa
3 New Zealand
4 England
5 Australia
6 United States
7 Kenya
8 France
9 Argentina
10 Japan
11 Brazil
12 ?

All but one team has already qualified.

The final spot will be contested in a Wild Card tournament after the Series finishes in 2016.

The interesting storyline with this is that the teams challenging for that final spot will have the opportunity to see each other play throughout the Series, but no doubt that will also find themselves in a match-up on the odd occasion, which will provide for a fascinating sideshow.

Now looking for to the Dubai and what will be on display?

The first tournament of the year is always very intriguing, as many teams have not seen each other for a few months and most have had new comers join their squad with the build up in to the start of the Series.

Some have had a change in leadership, the most noticeable of that would be the appointment of Scott Curry as the New Zealand skipper, with DJ Forbes remaining in the side.

The culture some times takes on a new look and the approach will be different this year, as for most teams the qualification stress and pressure is now off, so its back to playing for the World Series title solely.

Based on the pools, I feel comfortable that the No.1 and No.2 seed in the pools will progress through to the quarterfinals.

The only pool that I do see an opportunity for an upset with this in Pool B, where I believe that Samoa may beat out Scotland for the second spot in that pool.

As you tune in this weekend try to remember that this is a the start of a roller coaster and for those that have had the opportunity to ride some of the bigger and more thrilling roller coasters around the world, you start by queuing for hours to get to the front of the line where its then your turn.

This is the pre-season and planning phase of the World Series for each country.

Then you are given your chance jump on and strap in.

That's the selection of that first team that will represent the squad and country at the opening of the World Series.

You then start a slow climb towards the precipice, click, click, click. The anticipation builds with every metre gained and the knowledge that inevitable is getting closer and closer. That's this past week in Dubai. The build up, the teams seeing each other for the first time and sizing each other up and the newbies getting their first glimpse at the theatrics of the Series and the old stalwarts reminding themselves why they put themselves through the pain and toils of preseason to get to this point.

In one instant you reached the top, blue skies and beautiful are the view from the top. At this point everyone is unbeaten, no one has lost a game and everyone has something to win or lose. Then we look down and the first whistle of the first game starts and that's it. There is now no option but to plunge head first in to the 2015/16 World Sevens Series.

Its going to be magical and I look forward to talking you all through it as the year continues.

By Matt Hawkins
@polarbearkzn
@rugby365com