England’s rugby sevens team once again failed to reach the main knockout stage of the HSBC Sevens World Series, making it three consecutive unsuccessful attempts this season.
The latest round of the global competition, taking place at the Nelson Mandela Bay stadium in South Africa, was a real opportunity to arrest the tough season England have had so far and put their title challenge back on track. Unfortunately, drawn in a tough group with Southern Hemisphere sides Fiji and New Zealand, plus British rivals Scotland, fate was always against England on this occasion.
England’s challenge lost steam quickly on Saturday, losing the opening game against Fiji 19-29. The Pacific side stormed into the lead with three tries in the first half, but England earned a consolation before half-time. After the interval, the momentum moved towards England following Levani Botia’s dismissal, but it wasn’t enough to secure a win. England, replacing only Tom Mitchell after he broke his leg in Dubai, gave Ollie Phillips his first appearance in three years, but his comeback deteriorated even quicker with a 24-7 loss to New Zealand. England failed to score until the second minute of the second half, with Dan Norton providing the only try.
Facing a rock-bottom finish to Pool B, England rescued their ailing weekend with a thumping win over Scotland. Shockingly, England again didn’t get going until the last sector of the lightning-fast game, but they certainly made up for it. Again, they benefited from an opposition in the form of Colin Shaw and it was Scotland’s turn to have a scoreless half.
The result, following Scotland’s pool win against Fiji and losses to New Zealand and England, meant that both British sides finished in the bottom half of the group. Once again, this prevents the two from reaching the true knockout stages, but they have an opportunity to contest the Bowl, the third competition of four. England’s next opponent is Spain, who they beat to win the Shield in Dubai. As group losers, Scotland have a tougher task against Kenya, who they lost to in last week’s pool stage.
In extremely contrasting performances, Wales were able to top their group to advance towards a quarter-final showdown with New Zealand. The Kiwis are bidding to win their fourth consecutive South Africa sevens title, having claimed five of the last six. Wales, on the other hand, are hoping to win the event for the first time and be the first British winners since England in 2003. The standings are against them; Wales lie in eighth, the highest of the three British sides and won the Plate competition against Canada last week. However, they look hard-pressed to dominate New Zealand and could see themselves battling for the second-string trophy.
Whatever happens to Wales, they’re unlikely to suffer the same devastating season the English side have had so far. Lying in twelfth following 10th and 13th place finishes in the first two events of the season, England look like they’ll never find the form they need to challenge for the main prize. As a collective nation, the outlook doesn’t look hugely rosy for the inaugural Sevens competition at the 2016 Olympic Games.