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By IRB Media Unit
The countdown to Rugby World Cup Sevens 2013 in Moscow is gaining momentum and competition for qualifying spots for the 24-team tournament is hotting up.
Eight teams qualified from the last edition in Dubai – champions Wales, runners-up Argentina, England, Fiji, Kenya, New Zealand, Samoa and South Africa) – and with Russia qualifying as hosts, there are 15 places available via regional qualifiers around the world.
The European qualifier in July saw Portugal, Spain, France, Georgia and Scotland win through to Moscow and this weekend sees the Oceania qualifier tournament take place in Sydney, Australia. Despite Fiji, New Zealand and Samoa having already qualified, two more places are available to teams from the Oceania region.
Doing battle over the two days in Sydney for the title of Oceania Sevens champions and the right to progress to RWC Sevens 2013 are American Samoa, Australia, Cook Islands, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tahiti and Tonga.
Plenty at stake
The Oceania region has an impressive pedigree in Rugby Sevens with New Zealand winning the HSBC Sevens World Series in 2011/12 from Fiji with Samoa fourth.
On paper Australia and Tonga will be fancied to win through to Moscow but the likes of PNG and Cook Islands in particular will be keen on upsetting the from book. Samoa will also fancy their chances of winning the tournament in Sydney. So there is a lot at stake.
The Samoans, the Sevens World Series champions in 2009/10, are always an impressive performer and had a very strong Series in 2011/12, winning the USA Sevens in Las Vegas and being runners-up to Australia in Japan and Fiji in London. Samoa also finished third in South Africa while winning the Plate competition in Hong Kong and Scotland.
Australia like Samoa are a core team in the HSBC Sevens World Series. They finished third in the Series in 2009/10 and have been sixth in the standings for the last two years. Australia won the Japan leg of the Series in Tokyo in April and will host the 2012/13 opening round on the Gold Coast in October.
Coach Michael O’Connor is confident of winning through to Moscow. “The guys know what’s at stake, we know the gravity of the occasion but the fact is we’re playing this tournament in Australia in front of a home crowd.”
“We’re heading into the tournament with a fair amount of confidence because we have experienced players in this squad. A large chunk of our squad is from Sydney so they’ll be comfortable in their surroundings and North Sydney Oval is a great ground that will lend itself to Sevens.”
O’Connor has welcomed Wallaby Luke Morahan back into the Sevens fold for this tournament and he joins a squad packed with World Series experience in the likes of captain Ed Jenkins and youngsters Con Foley, Matt Lucas and Allan Faalavaau.
To book their ticket to Moscow, Australia will need to reverse the results of the 2011 Oceania Sevens which were dominated by the Pacific Island nations. Samoa were crowned champions with a 19-7 win over Fiji in the final, while Tonga finished third after beating Australia 28-12 in the play-off.
Tonga placed 16th played in the World Series standings this year but only played in three of the tournaments at Gold Coast, Wellington and Hong Kong. In Wellington they had their best tournament and beat Fiji and Argentina and drew with Wales to win their pool. They then beat France in the Plate semi final before losing in the final to South Africa. On their day they are as good as anyone and they have competed at the last two Rugby World Cup Sevens in Dubai and Hong Kong.
Tonga Rugby Union High Performance Manager Peter Harding said: “Tonga wants to be in the final this weekend and qualify for the RWC Sevens. However, we have had some disruptions and not a lot of tournament time recently. Our head coach passed away earlier this month which was a shock but the team is using this unfortunate occasion as a motivation to do well.”
“One of our young promising players, Sione Teaupa, got injured in a club game recently and will miss the tournament but Vaea Poteki our most experienced player is playing. His decision making and leadership on and off the field will hopefully help the other players flourish.”
The Cook Islands, with a population of just 12,800, competed in the Wellington round of the 2011/12 Sevens World Series and were impressive in beating USA and Japan before losing to Scotland in the Shield final. Papua New Guinea was invited to play in the Gold Coast round of the Series and beat Niue and Japan on their way to winning the Shield.
PNG coach Warren Jennings said:
“Our goal at the tournament is to restore PNG Sevens to its former days as a regular on the international Sevens scene. Qualifying for Moscow is something we believe we can achieve but we will be taking on each team as they come.
“We have some exciting players to look out for, such as speedster Albert Levi Jnr who should combine well with some of the new talent coming through in Hubert Tseraha and Timothy Pola. For the young guys it will be their first real test at this level, but we have every confidence they will shine.”
Day one of the Oceania Sevens Championships on Saturday will see the eight teams compete in two pools. Samoa, Papua New Guinea, Cook Islands and Tahiti will compete in Pool A, while Australia, Tonga, Solomon Islands and American Samoa make up Pool B.
Oceania Sevens Championship 2012 draw
Saturday 25 August 2012
1. 11:00 – Papua New Guinea v Cook Islands (Pool A)
2. 11:22 – Samoa v Tahiti (Pool A)
3. 11:44 – Tonga v American Samoa (Pool B)
4. 12:06 – Australia v Solomon Islands (Pool B)
5. 12:37 – Papua New Guinea v Tahiti (Pool A)
6. 12:59 – Samoa v Cook Islands (Pool A)
7. 13:21 – Tonga v Solomon Islands (Pool B)
8. 13:43 – Australia v American Samoa (Pool B)
9. 14:14 – Cook Islands v Tahiti (Pool A)
10. 14:36 – Samoa v Papua New Guinea (Pool A)
11. 14:58 – American Samoa v Solomon Islands (Pool B)
12. 15:20 – Australia v Tonga (Pool B)
The action on day two will be streamed live and free at www.ethnicmedia360.com/Events/RUGBY/FORU/OceaniaSevens2012.aspx
Sunday 26 August 2012
13. 11:00 – 1st Pool A v 4th Pool B
14. 11:22 – 2nd Pool A v 3rd Pool B
15. 11:44 – 3rd Pool A v 2nd Pool B
16. 12:06 – 4th Pool A v 1st Pool B
17. 12:37 – Loser Match 13 v Loser Match 15
18. 12:59 – Loser Match 14 v Loser Match 16
19. 13:21 – Winner Match 13 v Winner Match 15
20. 13:43 – Winner Match 14 v Winner Match 16
21. 14:14 – 7th v 8th playoff – Loser Match 17 v Loser Match 18
22. 14:36 – 5th v 6th playoff – Winner Match 17 v Winner Match 18
23. 14:58 – 3rd v 4th playoff – Loser Match 19 v Loser Match 20
24. 15:20 – Final – Winner Match 19 v Winner Match 20
Tom Kingston was nearly a Sevens player five years ago, just as he entered the professional rugby ranks.