Preview: London Sevens
WORLD SERIES ROUND NINE: Olympic qualification will be at the heart of the motivation for some teams, while the United States and Fiji are locked in a two-horse race for overall honours.
The London tournament is the penultimate event on the Sevens World Series, which concludes next month in Paris (June 1 and 2).
The top four teams in this season’s World Series will qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and there’s a chance that fans could see four teams secure their spot at Twickenham Stadium on May 25 and 26.
Should any of the top teams finish the London event with a margin of 22 or more points ahead of the fifth-placed team in the standings – currently England – they will have achieved Olympic qualification for Tokyo 2020 with one round to spare.
The United States currently sit top of the table, having earned a place on the medal podium in seven of the eight tournaments this season.
“We’re not really looking at it as pressure, but more as an opportunity,” United States captain Madison Hughes said of his team’s great form and chance to earn a maiden World Series crown.
“It is an opportunity that we have earned over the course of the season, through consistent results and through performing well.
“Now here we are in London with two tournaments to go. Before this season I think you would have said it was a dream so we’re just going to do everything we can to perform in each game and do the best that we can this weekend.”
After a second place finish in Singapore, Fiji sits just three points below the United States in the current standings and will be looking to replicate their performance in London last year where they defeated South Africa in a thrilling Cup Final.
New Zealand and South Africa occupy third and fourth place respectively, with just nine points between them, and after their gold medal finish in Singapore, South Africa will undoubtedly be buoyant for London this weekend.
Hosts England will be without their captain Tom Mitchell this weekend, with Sevens veteran Phil Burgess taking on the leadership role in his absence in what will be his 50th World Series appearance for his country.
“I think we had a really good focus coming off the back of Singapore that we were going to look at London and just give it everything,” Burgess said.
“Playing in an England shirt at Twickenham, I don’t think you can get much better than that, and it was a case of we wanted to go out and make ourselves proud, make the fans proud, and hopefully the by-product of that will be the results that we want.”
As well as the fight for Olympic qualification, the teams at the bottom of the table will battle it out to avoid relegation with only two tournaments remaining this season.
Only four points separate Kenya, Wales and Japan in the bottom three – so there is everything to play for in London.
The relegated team will be replaced by Ireland, who secured core team status for the World Series 2020 by winning the qualifier event in Hong Kong in April.
After defeating England in the bronze medal play-off at Twickenham last year, Ireland will be looking for another podium finish this weekend.
“Last year in London was brilliant,” Irish captain Billy Dardis said.
“We caught a few teams on the hop and no one really expected it and we got lucky with a few good results in what turned out to be a great weekend. We have good memories from last year.
“Obviously getting onto the World Series next season is great for the whole programme, but it’s important to acknowledge that we’re still an invitational side [this week] and we’ve got a lot of work to do this weekend as we’ve got a hard group.
“We’re excited and we’re building towards the Olympic qualifiers in July so these are an important two weeks for us.”
The pool draw for London will see Singapore winners South Africa take on Japan, Argentina and Canada in Pool A.
In Pool B, second-placed Fiji will face Kenya, Samoa and France.
Hosts England will battle it out against Ireland, Scotland and New Zealand in Pool C.
Series leaders United States will be looking to continue their impressive form against Spain, Australia and Wales in Pool D.
(Kick-off is local time – same as GMT)
Saturday, May 25
Australia v Wales – 09.30
United States v Spain – 09.52
Samoa v France – 10.14
Fiji v Kenya – 10.36
Argentina v Canada – 10.58
South Africa v Japan – 11.20
New Zealand v Scotland – 11.42
England v Ireland – 12.04
Australia v Spain – 12.36
United States v Wales – 12.58
Samoa v Kenya – 13.20
Fiji v France – 13.42
Argentina v Japan – 14.04
South Africa v Canada – 14.26
New Zealand v Ireland – 14.48
England v Scotland – 15.10
Wales v Spain – 15.42
United States v Australia – 16.04
France v Kenya – 16.26
Fiji v Samoa – 16.48
Canada v Japan – 17.10
South Africa v Argentina – 17.32
Scotland v Ireland – 17.54
England v New Zealand – 18.16