Hawkeye view: The inside on Sevens
Hawkeye view: The inside on SevensSHARE
This weekend is the start of the 2014/15 Sevens World Series on the Gold Coast Australia. There is an increased awareness of every event this year, as each tournament will form part of the Olympic qualification process, which has some teams licking their lips and others sweating it out to stay part of the big show.
With the change in format last year, we saw the departure of Spain as a regular on the World Series circuit – through relegation and the promotion of Japan, which is a truly exciting prospect.
Over the three last tournaments during last year's series they showed some terrific skill and execution and gave every one a run for their money. With time away and the opportunity to regroup and really launch into a new Series, what will they have to offer and will they get stronger through each event, or will the grind of the Series take its toll?
When viewing Sevens from the outside, it's an extremely exhilarating, fast-paced entertaining sport that offers incredible commercial opportunity.
What we don't see is the grind that truly is the World Series.
The Series kicks off Saturday, October 11, but a lot of the teams have been training, preparing and competing in different tournaments around the globe and at their home bases for months now.
A true Sevens season only really breaks for a month to six weeks in a year, but outside of that it is day in and day out.
An added factor – and one that always has an impact on many of the results in this first Series – is the build up to the tournament, starting three weeks out from the first game-day.
Key decisions include: When do we finalise our teams, do we play in a tune-up tournament before the Series and then when do we fly to the Series venue? Must we arrive early to acclimatize and work our bodies through the jet lag, as well as the change in surroundings, or do we arrive late and hope that the adjustment is purely mental and something we as a team can overcome?
These are all massive strategic pieces that play an incredible role in the results and performances you as a viewer see over the two days of play.
The uniqueness of the Gold Coast is that it really and truly is not close for many when it comes to travel.
The lucky few – New Zealand, Fiji and of course Australia – have fairly simple travel and acclimatization to take in to account.
However, those travelling from South Africa and Europe have to endure a significantly bigger impact in travel requirements.
This effects the preparation work at home, but also how you roll out the first few days when the team arrives on deck on the Gold Coast.
The Gold Coast as a venue has had mixed reviews.
The player hotel where all the teams stay is a couple blocks off the beautiful Gold Coast Coastline and in close proximity to Surfers Paradise, so a more than welcome change for those countries currently entering into winter.
These surroundings can make it easier for the players to get up and get going each day, but can also help to alleviate some of the additional wear and tear you might feel from the travel.
This weekend, as it is a one-off Series event with no other following next week, coaches and the management teams will use the opportunity to test out a few of their theories – based on what they have learnt in years past.
For others, such as the new coaches, it offers an opportunity to test just how well do their players adapt to the travel and how well their support staff collaborate to efficiently change the teams preparation from build-up to game time in a couple days.
The Stadium has never reached capacity and that does not allow the crowd to act as an eighth man on the field that can boost the fancied teams. The venue itself is actually a Rugby League stadium and lacks certain conveniences for the players to adequately rest and recover between games. The field is also far away from the tournament hotel, which effects most teams' ability to return to the hotel between games.
When looking across the teams, there are three very distinct teams and coaches who I believe will have a massive year ahead of them and will have the spotlight firmly on them.
Gordon Tietjens of New Zealand is entering into his 15th year as the head coach and has created a resume that could only be truly recognized through his Knighthood. Tietjens' time on the job has given him two great advantages over his peers – he has earned the respect and trust of his players and staff, but he has also evolved through the Series' many changes and has seen science and technology influence all parts of the game.
This will bode well for him moving in to the year of the unknown, the Olympic qualification.
Another stalwart of the Series Ben Ryan, in his second year in charge of Fiji, will have to come to terms with the unbelievable disparity between the resources and support he received as the England coach and what he has had to build a team from in Fiji. I believe the time has been well spent and they really have the opportunity under his guidance to become a truly consistent powerhouse again.
And the new Australian coach, Welshman Geraint John, is making his first appearance in front of the home crowd. It will be an enthralling experience, with many watching to see just how well the transition was made and what kind of support he has received from the administration. The opportunity for success is there.
The storylines and changes in emphasis from one team to another over this year is going to be a roller coaster ride to say the least and its going to be a battle each and every time a team takes the field for overall supremacy – with the underlying tone of Olympic qualification and possible relegation being highlighted at every turn.
This year won't be a season for one-trick ponies.
Those that have put the time in formed a true foundation with their program are going to reap the rewards.
* Matthew Hawkins, who will write this weekly Sevens column exclusively for rugby365, is a former United States eagles Sevens player, captain and coach. He appeared on the World Series as a player 37 times (from 2007 to 2013 and also appeared in two Sevens World Cup tournaments – 2009 (Dubai) and 2013 (Russia).