After the Dubai leg of the IRB Sevens World Series attracted a record worldwide television audience last weekend, the next stop on the nine-tournament roller coaster is Port Elizabeth.
And if the young, inexperienced Aussie men’s team think last week was tough; well it could be worse this weekend.
The Dubai event featured men’s and women’s competitions, and no fewer than 22 broadcasters around the world showed live pictures to around 230 million homes across 140 countries.
I realise that sevens is slow to catch on in Australia, but I’m amazed at the progress it’s making elsewhere. It has a huge following in neighbouring countries New Zealand, Fiji and Samoa, because they are three of the top teams and sevens is a religion in Fiji in particular.
While the Fijians surprisingly crashed out in the semis last week, Samoa and New Zealand clashed in an entertaining final with the Samoans prevailing.
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But it’s nations like Portugal and Kenya where sevens is making huge progress, not to mention Spain and Russia, who will host the Rugby World Cup Sevens in June.
Lots of money and effort is going into making the so-called minnows of the 15 aside game more competitive in Sevens in the run up to the 2016 Olympics.
Portugal and Kenya, two of the 15 ‘core’ teams that qualify for all the events, reached the Cup quarter-finals in Dubai while South Africa, England and Australia missed out and had to play in the Bowl, or bottom-eight competition, on day two.
After a first up win over the United States in pool play, Australia blew a 28-14 lead over Canada – the match ending in a 28-all draw which cost the Aussies a spot in the main-draw quarter-finals.
With five 19-year-olds and four debutants all up, they were shattered and weren’t prepared mentally on day two when they lost to both England and Scotland.
They should be better for the experience this weekend in PE but they’ve drawn the host nation South Africa, last week’s winners Samoa and France, who made the semis in Dubai. It’s a tall order but coach Michael O’Connor is hoping to see a vast improvement.
With no Super Rugby players available for the Aussie team, O’Connor can’t afford to be without his experienced forwards Ed Jenkins and Jesse Parahi who are both injured. They should be back in time for Wellington and Las Vegas in February along with playmakers Alan Fa’alava’au and Lewis Holland.
So don’t expect too much from the Aussies again this week when you catch all the day-two action on Fox Sports from 8pm (EDT) on Sunday night.
Organisers are expecting another sell-out crowd and if last week is anything to go by, anything’s possible and there are upsets aplenty.