Rugby 7s: The teams

We take a closer look at the teams from this years tournament.

POOL A

New Zealand
Top seed for the first tournament in the 2008/09 sevens season, the Kiwis took firm hold of the 2007/08 calendar with victories in Dubai, George, Wellington, San Diego, Hong Kong and Edinburgh, and were crowned overall winners; their eighth triumph in nine years. They also became the first team to win the first four tournaments of a sevens season, reclaiming the Dubai crown that had been in the hands of South Africa and England over the past four seasons.
Head coach: Gordon Tietjens
Nothing left to achieve on the sevens circuit, but isn’t giving up just yet.
One to watch, in five words: DJ Forbes
Young and leads by example.
Dubai 2007: Cup winners
Fixtures: 28/11 9.30am Wales; 2.26pm Zimbabwe; 6.50pm Australia

Australia

The 31-0 defeat of Canada in the Bowl final in Dubai last year was small consolation for a shaky 2007/08 campaign, in which the Wallabies’ best result was a Cup semi-final appearance in Wellington. It’s been said Australia don’t take sevens seriously enough and underachieve as a consequence, but they are more than capable of sheer brilliance as well.
Head coach: Michael O’Connor
Former union and league player who replaced Bill Millard as sevens coach.
One to watch, in five words: Willie Bishop
Vicious sidestep; scares any defence.
Dubai 2007: Bowl winners
Fixtures: 28/11 9.52am Zimbabwe; 2.48pm Wales; 6.50pm New Zealand

Wales
It couldn’t be a tougher start for Paul John, Wales’ new coach, having to meet New Zealand and Australia in his very first two matches. Not that it’s likely to faze them; Wales invests heavily in young talent and can go into the tournament with confidence, buoyed by their Bowl semi-final defeat to Australia in Dubai last year.
Head coach: Paul John
A scrum-half in his playing days, now a coach with talent.
One to watch, in five words: Richie Pugh
Hard-hitting, big-tackling flanker.
Dubai 2007: Bowl semi-finalists
Fixtures: 28/11 9.30am New Zealand; 2.48pm Australia; 5.22pm Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe gave the bigger rugby playing nations of Australia and France a real go in Dubai, narrowly losing by seven and five points respectively. They face three stern tests in the pool stages this year, although they do have confidence and momentum. The Cheetahs will also be joining the elite sides at the World Cup next March after defeating Zambia, Botswana and Madagascar in the Tunis qualifiers earlier this month.
Head coach: Liam Middleton
England-based coach with exceptional ability to make Zimbabwe a real force.
One to watch, in five words: Willis Magasa
Nippy if avoids getting injured.
Dubai 2007: Shield winners
Fixtures: 28/11 9.52am Australia; 2.26pm New Zealand; 5.22pm Wales

POOL B

South Africa
Having installed a full-time sevens set-up last year, the Springboks are probably New Zealand’s biggest threat in Dubai. It was the Kiwis who ended their unbeaten start to last season, trumping them 12-7 in the Cup semi-final. This year, South Africa are second seeds and should progress with relative ease from Pool B, although they will be without speed demon and sevens specialist, Fabian Juries, who hasn’t been included in Paul Treu’s squad.
Head coach: Paul Treu
Seamless transition from sevens captain to coach within one season.
One to watch, in five words: Tendayi Chikukwa
Agile No.8 from Blue Bulls.
Dubai 2007: Cup semi-finalists
Fixtures: 28/11 10.14am Scotland; 3.10pm Arabian Gulf; 7.12pm Kenya

Kenya

Kenya have already had a great start to the sevens season; qualifying for next year’s World Cup with a 26-14 victory over Zimbabwe. Kenya are not your standard sevens team. Rather than take the game to the opposition, they prefer to play on the counter- attack and exploit mistakes. But they still need to add finesse to their game.
Head coach: Benjamin Ayimba
Another player-to-coach transition, Ayimba is still trying to win over supporters.
One to watch, in five words: Humphrey Kayange
In great form as captain.
Dubai 2007: Plate semi-finalists
Fixtures: 28/11 10.36am Arabian Gulf; 3.32pm Scotland; 7.12pm South Africa

Scotland

Despite defeating France 17-12 and the Arabian Gulf 27-5 in Singapore’s pool stages, Scotland were seen off by New Zealand, Fiji and Samoa. For a massive rugby-playing nation, Scotland may be getting frustrated with their ‘dark horse’ reputation and fans could be concerned about the standard of younger players coming through.
Head coach: Stephen Gemmell
Senior national academy coach in position to oversee development of sevens stars.
One to watch, in five words: Chris Kinloch
Star performer over past year
Dubai 2007: Plate semi-finalists
Fixtures: 28/11 10.14am South Africa; 3.32pm Kenya; 5.44pm Arabian Gulf

Arabian Gulf
The Arabian Gulf have had some special preparation for the Sevens at the hands of Paul Treu, the top man from their Pool B rivals, South Africa. Gulf captain Stephen Cooper believes his side ‘have never had this calibre of coaching available before’. Indeed. They lost every match last year, including a 64-0 game to New Zealand.
Head coach: Mike Lunjevich
Experienced coach determined to lead his side to a sevens upset.
One to watch, in five words: Stephen Cooper
Powerful and gritty sevens captain.
Dubai 2007: Shield semi-finalists
Fixtures: 28/11 10.36am Kenya; 3.10pm South Africa; 5.44pm Scotland


POOL C

Samoa
The presence of Argentina in Pool C will make Samoa sick. They lost twice to the Pumas in 2007. But the Samoans can beat anybody and win anything on their day, as shown by an impressive victory at the London Sevens this year. For the 2008/09 opener, they have a younger team, yet are still the third seeds in Dubai.
Head coach: Rudolph Moors
Knows the side inside-out and previously worked as sevens assistant coach.
One to watch, in five words: Reupena Levasa
Try scorer with Dubai experience.
Dubai 2007: Plate finalists
Fixtures: 28/11 10.58am France; 3.54pm Georgia; 7.34pm Argentina

Argentina

Time Out predicted Argentina would be a strong force in the 15s Rugby World Cup, and we were right – they finished third. Sevens is a completely different game, but their recent success may be reflected in the shorter game. Although they lost out to Fiji and New Zealand here last year, they ended as Plate winners with a 15-14 defeat of Samoa. We’ll tip them to top Pool C, as well as inflict yet another defeat on mighty Samoa.
Head coach: Duncan Forrester
Another player-turned-coach hoping to make Argentina a genuine sevens force.
One to watch, in five words: Santiago Gomez Cora
Puma legend can’t stop scoring.
Dubai 2007: Plate winners
Fixtures: 28/11 11.20am Georgia; 4.16pm France; 7.34pm Samoa

France

France invest heavily in their youngsters but have a habit of not balancing their squads out with experience. Last year, they came close to beating New Zealand in their final Dubai pool game, losing 21-19. They never recovered however, and ended up being crushed 21-5 by relative sevens minnows Canada in the Bowl semi-final. Consistency in the team is definitely key for Les Bleus’ success, and the ‘B’ team could be the start of a brand new sevens chapter.
Head coach: Thierry Janeczek
A seemingly stubborn coach, but can pick unknown star performers.
One to watch, in five words:Vincent Roux
Sevens-minded and potentially dangerous.
Dubai 2007: Bowl semi-finalists
Fixtures: 28/11 10.58am Samoa; 4.16pm Argentina; 6.06pm Georgia

Georgia
Georgia has been hit hard politically this year but it hasn’t discouraged a nation mad on rugby. They are set to compete in the World Cup Sevens in March next year after an unbeaten qualifying campaign in Germany, including a last-minute try to beat Russia. Don’t be surprised if Georgia see off France in the pool stages. Although anything more would be a bonus.
Head coach: Kakhaber Alania
Has the unenviable task of sustaining pride in Georgian rugby with a few wins.
One to watch, in five words: Merab Kvirikashvili
Knack for scoring crucial tries.
Dubai 2007: Did not compete
Fixtures: 28/11 11.20m Argentina; 3.54pm Samoa; 6.06pm France

POOL D

Fiji
New Zealand have stolen the sevens crown from Fiji and coach Waisale Serevi will want it back desperately. They have handling skills to rival anyone on the circuit. They lost out to the NZ 31-21 in the last Dubai final but blitzed Australia, Zimbabwe and Scotland. Their match against England at the end of day one will be worth watching, especially after the controversy that surrounded the Fijian victory in 2007.
Head coach: Waisale Serevi
Captained the sevens to World Cup victory. Hopes for success as coach.
One to watch, in five words: Iveri Lavo
Improves every time he plays.
Dubai 2007: Cup finalists
Fixtures: 28/11 11.42am USA; 4.38pm Portugal; 7.56pm England

England
England have been unlucky in sevens under Ben Ryan, although they play some of the most attractive rugby. Their rivalry with Fiji will be resumed this year, after a legitimate Ben Foden try that would have seen England victorious in the Cup semi-final was ruled out. England ended up losing 22-21. But if the new players are as lively as the old ones, we reckon a Cup semi-final place is pretty realistic for England.
Head coach: Ben Ryan
Takes the job seriously and would hope frustration turns into triumph.
One to watch, in five words: Tom Biggs
Lively winger impressed last season.
Dubai 2007: Cup semi-finalists
Fixtures: 28/11 12.04pm Portugal; 5pm USA; 7.56pm Fiji

USA
The Americans had a dismal 2007 Dubai campaign, losing every match. However, they’ve been named as an IRB core side for the 2008/09 series, meaning they will compete in all eight events. But the work doesn’t end there. Playing New Zealand, South Africa and Fiji on a regular basis leaves no room for complacency.
Head coach: Al Caravelli
Like most coaches in America, Caravelli is determined to be the best.
One to watch, in five words: Todd Clever
Physical experience key to squad.
Dubai 2007: Shield semi-finalists
Fixtures: 28/11 11.42am Fiji; 5pm England; 6.28pm Portugal

Portugal
Portugal are minnows of the game but are developing at pace. They have a tough group in Dubai, but like the other rugby nations competing, are more than capable of at least one upset, this time likely to be against the USA. Expect them to put in a few big performances in March before returning to Dubai for the sevens at the end of next year to upset the odds significantly.
Head coach: Tomaz Morais
Very busy man credited with much of Portugal’s success at 15s and sevens level.
One to watch, in five words: David Mateus
Consistently scores from the wing.
Dubai 2007: Did not compete
Fixtures: 28/11 12.04pm England; 4.38pm Fiji; 6.28pm USA

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