Can Kenya Continue USA Sevens Momentum?

Kenya continued to impress at the USA Sevens, which has become their tournament almost as much as it has been for USA Rugby. After what can only be described as a lackluster start to their HSBC World Sevens Series campaign, Collins Injera led the Kenyans to victories over Wales (22-14) and Argentina (21-7) in Las Vegas to win the USA Sevens Plate championship.

Lumped into the same pool at #1 New Zealand and #2 Fiji in the season kickoff Australia Sevens, the Kenyans went 1-2 in the first day, racking up a win against Niue before losing to Tonga and Japan in the second day.

The Kenyans’ woes continued the following week in Dubai, going winless for the first day, including a surprising 21-5 loss to Zimbabwe. They rallied the second day with a 35-5 win against the UAE in the Shield semifinals before losing to Samoa to end their day.

The South Africa Sevens and New Zealand Sevens were not much kinder to Kenya, where they lost to Zimbabwe in the South African Sevens Shield Finals before beating Australia 12-7 in Wellington’s Shield Finals.

The New Zealand Sevens marked the start of Kenya’s upward swing, as they carried the momentum from their Shield win in Wellington to move one level up the competition in Las Vegas with a Plate victory.

The Kenyans have usually stepped up their game when playing in the USA Sevens, whether they are able to feed off of the energy of their fan base in the USA (they are usually a crowd favorite in Vegas) or they begin to gel as a team about that time.  Now the next question is, will they be able to carry that momentum on to the Hong Kong Sevens in late March?

USA Sevens Announces Largest Attendance Yet!

According to the IRB and USA Sevens, over 64,000 rugby fans visited UNLV’s Sam Boyd Stadium over the three days of the tournament and over 30,000 attended the second day of games – making it the largest rugby crowd ever in North America.

Tournament Director Dan Lyle said

We have quite a lot of people from the southern hemisphere in the stands but it’s Las Vegas and that lends itself to the international party that we promote and adding the element of high class sporting fun it is really exciting to be in the middle of a growth element and proving some points that the sport is on the rise.

With the facilities offered by an NCAA Division I university like UNLV, and the unique entertainment opportunities in Las Vegas, Nev. (as opposed to that hotbed of night life, Las Vegas, N.M.) the USA Sevens has a chance to continue the stellar growth it has achieved since moving to Las Vegas and eventually become one of the top two venues in the HSBC Sevens World Series, second only to the iconic Hong Kong Sevens.

With almost half of the tournament’s visitors attending on Saturday, I wonder if the tourney would be better served moving from a three-day schedule (much like the Hong Kong Sevens) to a two-day tournament to serve as many visitors as possible without taxing their resources.  Some of the matches broadcast on NBC had fairly empty looking stadiums, not a criticism but I’m just wondering if moving the tournament to two days will help keep more fans in the stands.

One of the great things that the team at the USA Sevens have been able to secure is broadcast time on NBC and NBC Sports for the last couple of years. This, along with coverage of the collegiate sevens championship, is presenting rugby in a form that many U.S. sporting fans can quickly understand.

IRB Announces Hong Kong Pools–Does USA No Favors

The Hong Kong Rugby Football Union recently announced the pools for the Hong Kong Sevens, the next leg of the HSBC Sevens World Series. Long considered the premier event in the Sevens World Series Calendar, the Hong Kong Sevens has long hosted 24 teams, in six pools of four, as opposed to the four pools of four that every other tournament has. This gives exposure to more nations which might have been passed over for the other tournaments, such as this year’s entrants Spain, the Philippines, Russia, Portugal, China and others.

(You can find the full listings of HK Sevens pools here)

The United States finds itself in Pool B, facing off with Sevens World Series leader New Zealand, last year’s USA Sevens champions (and sitting in third place in this year’s standings) South Africa and plucky U.K. representative #8 ranked Wales. While the U.S. went winless the first day of the USA Sevens tournament, the Eagles were able to score a nice win against France before being eliminated by the Aussies in the Bowl semifinals. Will the USA be able to carry their form against France through to the Hong Kong Sevens?

Another SuperSite favorite, Kenya, might be able to find a better result in the Far East. Facing USA Sevens champions Samoa, as well as England and Argentina in Pool A. While each of these teams are ranked above Kenya, the Kenyans have been able to pull out many close matches against top talent in recent years (remember their back and forth match with the All Blacks at the 2011 USA Sevens). Plus with stars like Collins Injere coming back from injury to the team, the Kenyans have the potential to pull an upset on at least Argentina, and possibly Samoa.

One of the problems for the US, and other smaller rugby nations, in the USA Sevens might have been the quick turnaround between the New Zealand Sevens and the event in Las Vegas – less than a week to return to the States, shake off the jetlag of 16+ hours in the air and return to form. Now the teams in the World Sevens Series have over a month and a half before they have to return to the pitch at the Hong Kong Sevens, giving them plenty of time to recover and prepare.

NOTE: The Hong Kong Sevens is one of the world’s most storied and popular sevens tournaments, starting in 1976 after a discussion between the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union and an executive from the Rothmans’ Tobacco company. The inaugural Hong Kong Sevens tournament hosted national teams from throughout the Asia-Pacific Rim, as well as representative teams from Australia and New Zealand.

For decades since the inaugural Hong Kong Sevens, the tournament became THE event to follow if you were a Sevens Rugby fan, especially for the excited and rambunctious fans, who are often worth the price of entry alone. It can also be argued (and I often do) that the popularity of the Hong Kong Sevens, along with a select few other Sevens Tournaments (Scotland’s Border Sevens among them) for fostering the eventual creation of the IRB Sevens World Cup and the current Sevens World Series.

Quick Note: Samoans Deny All Black Back-to-Back IRB Sevens Championships

Samoa denied New Zealand back-to-back IRB Sevens tourney championships as the All Blacks are once again the bridesmaids in Las Vegas, losing to Samoa 26-19. Samoa won with a last-second try as time expired. The try capped a scoring flurry in the last few minutes of the Cup Finals match, with New Zealand fighting back from a 19-7 deficit in the second half to tie the game at 19-19 with time ticking down.

Samoa’s Alafoti Faosiliva powered over New Zealand defenders en route to scoring the Samoans’ game winning try after time had expired. Since the ball was still in play, as long as there were no game stoppages (penalties, etc) the game carried on after the clock read :00. Instead of kicking for touch and moving the game into the 5-minute sudden death OT, Samoa kept the ball in play after receiving New Zealand’s kickoff (once the All Blacks tied the game at 19) and drove the ball at the Kiwis. After passes crossing the width of the field and back, Faosiliva found the ball in his hands and fought his way across the try line.

The game was a nice contrast of styles – New Zealand played a nice, patient, finesse style of game, but still wasn’t afraid to take the ball into contact, while the Samoans seemed to crave running directly at the All Blacks. The first half stats showed the difference in each team’s style, with New Zealand completing many more passes than the Samoans, but the Samoans holding onto a 12-5 lead at the half.

IRB Opens Sevens Series to “Entire World” … Or Does It?

The International Rugby Board had decided to open up the Sevens World Series to all nations in a qualifying tournament at the Hong Kong Sevens. According to the International Rugby Board:

Three teams will advance from a dedicated 12-team regional qualifier finale, securing coveted core team status and joining the current core teams…

Which would increase the number of teams participating in each leg of the Sevens World Series from 12 to 15.

I hate to play the part of the wet blanket on the IRB, but I have to ask –

Continue reading “IRB Opens Sevens Series to “Entire World” … Or Does It?”