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Written By: Doug Crosse
World Cup Format Diabolical for All
The 2018 Rugby World Cup of Sevens could go down as being the most unique on a number of fronts. The men’s and women’s events are being run at the same time and in the same stadium. In Dubai 2009, two pitches were used, with the women relegated to the back field until the playoff rounds. Now full and proper attention is being paid to both sides of the event.
It is being played at a Major League Baseball stadium in San Francisco. Not the first time that sevens has been played at a baseball field, as San Diego’s Petco Park hosted a couple of rounds of the USA Sevens, but it is the first time a showpiece tournament from World Rugby is being wedged into a non-typical format stadium.
But most importantly, this tournament's brand new format must have coaches pacing the floors of their Bay area hotels.
A normal sevens event puts you in a pool of four where you play three games. Usually winning two of those games makes you top two in your pool. Four pools - two from each, Bob’s your uncle, you are into the Cup quarter-final round.
This year, it is one and done. Each game is a sudden death playoff game. Take the tenth ranked Canadian men. The opening match is against Papua New Guinea. This a team ranked 23rd at the tournament and a team Canada has never lost to in a handful of Commonwealth Games scenarios. Canada shouldn’t lose this one either, but that risk is always there.
Should Canada win, they get to face 7th ranked Argentina – one of eight teams that will be playing their first game of the day, while all comers will be registering their second game. If the goal was to ensure the top seeds advance, this format will seal the deal. Never before in a sevens format have one side of a fixtures list already played a game and then take a second game against a team that hasn’t played yet.
Some coaches would view that as an advantage to the team that has played already. Gotten first tackles, offensive movements, defensive strategies all warmed up. And let’s be clear, it is a 14-minute game and these guys are used to recharging and getting right back at it.
Still and all, this is a diabolical format, and one that is being eyed for the future of the Sevens Series as it takes much fewer games to get to the business end of the tournament. The standard 45 games that a regular 16-team tournament takes to play is a major impediment to television deals in North America. Asking networks to set aside 16 hours of a broadcast day, even in the universe of networks like ESPN having as many as half a dozen channels and online offerings, is a tough ask.
This format gets you to the quarter-finals in sixteen games instead of twenty-four. The upside is wherever you are playing after the first day, the Saturday is just two games and all to play for on the Sunday when you possibly play in the final – if all has gone well.
So if you like the high wire act at the circus with no net, or watching blind-folded knife throwers, this is the weekend for you. Each game means everything – and while some observers may feel it is a disservice to the format of the game that became a business in 1999, like all businesses, at some point you stop making buggy whips and decide to make cup holders for Mr. Ford’s new invention.
On the women’s side, it is a similar format except everyone plays in the first round. Win and advance. Quarter-final games will be decided in just sixteen matches on the Friday night. Saturday will need just two more games for a team to reach the finals. A Cup semi in mid-afternoon and the final to close the Saturday night out.
Canada’s women – seeded third behind New Zealand and Australia – take on Brazil Friday night. The Brazilians may wax poetic about advancing, but Canada has never struggled with this team and the World Cup squad should make easy work. With a victory, Canada would take on the winner of France vs Japan. LIkely the French, based on form. From there it gets spicy, as France on a good day can give Canada a hard run. Looking at the schedule it would probably be Canada taking on Australia in the semis. A hard draw but not impossible.
Canada taking a technically Sound squad
Damian McGrath seemed to get his mix right just as the 2017-2018 Sevens series wound down. Frustration and a few sniffs at the quarter-finals turned into a couple of promising tournaments, including a Cup semi-final appearance at the closing event in Paris just over a month ago.
Despite some great names on the roster, the one that is not there will be watching from a laptop in a Pickering fire hall. The absence of John Moonlight cannot be over-emphasized. People will say one player does not make up a whole team, but in Moonlight’s case, an argument has to be made for what a gap this leaves in terms of physicality and experience.
McGrath, due to severe budget cuts, was only able to use 19 players throughout the last gruelling year, which included more tournaments (Commonwealth Games - the San Jose Warm-up) and a revolving door at the trainer’s room as banged up players came back and forth into the squad with injuries.
Harry Jones, Nathan Hirayama, Connor Braid, Justin Douglas and Mike Fuailefau make up the core experience of this team, with physical types like Admir Cejvanovic and Matt Mullins lending some muscle. In this one and done format, McGrath will have to empty the tank on day one after taking on Papua New Guinea. The next match will be against an Argentina squad that has been enjoying the day in the grandstands waiting for their first up contest.
In that game, it has to be your best, most physical side on the pitch, and bring on the subs liberally if you are close and need fresh legs.
The margins are razor thin on this format and you would be foolish to think that McGrath will not be focusing solely on the Pumas and what they bring to the pitch. Canada matches well against the Argentines, but in this game where Canada has played one and Argentina none, it is going to be a new experience for everyone as to what that means.
Some things to chew on ahead of this week’s World Cup: Canada has the top scorer in the series in Nathan Hirayama, with 334 points in 57 sevens matches this year. And Justin Douglas got the DHL Impact Player Award. Does it all mean much? Not really, but it shows Canada is not there just to make up the numbers.
The other thing to think about. The 2009 World Cup: Wales beat Argentina in the final. Nobody expected that.
Canada Roster for Rugby World Cup Sevens:
Canada’s Women Looking Steady as 3rd Seed
The one thing that can be said about a John Tait-coached team when it comes to women’s sevens, he does not play favourites, and he always has one eye on the future. Even when his team has won World Series tournaments, upon arriving home he was ready to slot in the next up and coming player and get them integrated into the program.
That is is why there are plenty of new names being offered up at the World Cup of Sevens, but that shouldn’t make fans nervous.
The system Tait has in place allows the freedom to swap various players in and out without too much interruption to the patterns and style this team is accustomed to playing.
That being said, anticipate – especially with this unique one and done format that will see a Cup quarter-final game if Canada wins its opener against Brazil – that the likes of Britt Benn, Ghislaine Landry, Bianca Farella, Charity Williams and Kayla Moleschi will be in the starting rotation, with the rest of the team being matched up for their opposition.
This team can go deep into this tournament, but there is no room for stumbles. Based on the draws, Canada’s toughest game, if the form sheet plays out, would be against Australia in a Cup Semi match on Saturday. That could be the end of the line for Canada. The Aussies have had the Canadian number all this past season – winning three for three in convincing fashion.
This format could well play into Canada’s style, but there can be no loss of focus in the 14 minutes, as losing once is your whole tournament.
What should be encouraging is how Canada rebounded at the Paris 7s to claim the bronze after losing a tough Cup semi-final match 26-24 against the USA.
Canada Rugby World Cup Sevens Schedule:
Canada’s Rugby World Cup Sevens Roster: