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Hawkeye view: The inside on Sevens

The Gold Coast Sevens, which kicked off the IRB World Series 2014/15 season, was an incredible show of athleticism, character and pure delight.

We have definitely learnt a lot as teams from all over the globe came to stamp their mark on the World Series in this the Olympic qualification season.

For the record – the top six teams at the Gold Coast:

1. Fiji

2. Samoa

3. England

4. South Africa

5. New Zealand

6. Argentina

On Day One we saw some truly fantastic rugby, as the teams were more than happy to open the game up and really give flight to the ball. However, no other team did it better than Fiji.

The teams that struggled really lacked discipline and structure on defence and when given an opportunity with ball in hand, gave it up far to easily.

Possession in Sevens is your lifeline and the opposition capitalized.

One of the sides that really struggled on Day One was England. They were missing their dynamic captain Tom Mitchell, but they have great depth and talented players, but the creators were struggling to really find rhythm.

This is where the Sevens game really takes on its own competitive platform.

All the teams retreated to their base at the hotel and took stock of what was learnt. The questions asked included: How did we perform as a team, had we recovered well between games, did our warm-ups prepare us to fire from the start whistle, did we struggle through the day or gain in strength and are all players healthy and accounted for?

Now that we understand our landscape, who is our first challenge in the morning and how did they fair during Day One?

Once we have all of the strategy and footage reviewed, it was now time to focus on what Day Two looked like and this is where it can all go wrong, or for the few where it all comes together through their preparation.

England got it right and their opponents seemed to get it all wrong. The quarterfinal between England and New Zealand could not have showcased that more evidently.

The New Zealanders on Day One had played three games, scored 93 points and conceded only 24 points – which included downing eventual finalists Samoa 28-17.

England, on the other hand, completed their three games by sneaking through to the next round with 52 points for and 40 against, which included a shock loss 19-21 to Argentina.

The Quarterfinal between the two was one-way traffic. England had all the possession and played all the rugby for a final scoreline of 31–7 to the English. That brought the curtain down on New Zealand's Gold Coast title defence and moved England on to the semifinals.

More importantly it again displayed the fine nuances of this magical game and the two-day, format which can sink any ship if not properly prepared or engaged in the battle at hand.

Another rather intriguing piece was the constant breakdown of statistics and match-ups (shown in picture above). Which was labelled and shown as the tactical battle .

This is a staple in American sports with many athletes realising US$-millions because of their very individual stats. In Football its yards rushed, yards thrown or tackles and tackle assists.

The IRB debuted the Tactical Battle and showed very specific individual match ups. The stats they focused on:

* Tries

* Tackles

* Carries

* Line Breaks

We have seen this popping up over the last few months in the Rugby Championship and even in Super Rugby.

Statistics and spreadsheets of statistics and lines of codes and game matrix have been gathered and analysed for many years in the game, video footage has been broken down and it has evolved in to a real art that sees international and even provincial teams now contracting or hiring a Video/Performance Analyst as a key part of a coaching staff.

These four provide a new evaluation piece when as a spectator, we get a clear snapshot of exactly what this player has done in the tournament so far and creates more of a storyline to the game and allows for a more deliberate conversation piece in the commentary.

I for one think it's a great idea and is very engaging for the spectator and creates another dynamic around each and every game. The more they build off this, the better. We have a game that calls on a huge global audience and presently it is only scraping the tip of the iceberg with the potential it has.

For a coaching staff and for the players who have all returned home to HQ for now, the stats they look at will be team based and will lay the foundation for what's to come in the next block of prep work.

The focus will be on these key areas:

* Kick offs

* Missed tackles

* Defensive lapses

* Time in possession

* Conversion of possession in to points.

For most teams when gathering back around the whiteboard or the video study, the focus will be on progress.

What each team defines as progress will be at their coaching staff's discretion. For the teams that find themselves in the top six after Round One, they will take confidence from that finish, with the hopes that future performances will see them stay there going in to the final two tournaments of the year – with everything to play for and that of course is a top four placing and the automatic trip to the Olympic Games in Rio 2016.

Congratulations to Fiji, who were purely majestic in their performance. The freedom of ball movement with the carefree and reckless abandon to run the ball from everywhere really showcased just what this game should be.

* 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).


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