Since 2016, the Singapore Rugby Sevens has had to follow in the slipstream of the world’s best sevens tournament, with predictably sad results. The Hong Kong Sevens is one of the most enjoyable rugby weekends in the annual sporting calendar and is a hard act to follow.
Hong Kong, the crown jewel of the HSBC World Sevens circuit, is the event 7s teams most want to win. Their best efforts therefore tend to be devoted to that end, with the result that the top teams thus usually turn up in Singapore a week later, a bit of a spent force.
Singapore Sevens – a chance for the also-rans.
Predictably, the Singapore tournament has become a chance for the also-rans to grab some rare glory.
Ah, you might say, what about Fiji winning last year? They are hardly ever also-rans, and had turned up last year having also won their fourth straight HK Sevens before coming to Singapore.
True, but last year involved a crucial difference, in that the Singapore Sevens didn’t follow immediately after Hong Kong.
Instead, what followed Hong Kong was the Commonwealth Games, which the other big teams had obviously prioritised over Hong Kong. Most had sent their second-string sides to the territory while keeping their top sides in cotton wool for the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games event, which took place one week after Hong Kong.
Not surprisingly, Fiji couldn’t follow up their Hong Kong win with a Commonwealth gold, allowing New Zealand to win their fifth Gold medal in six Commonwealth Games sevens tournaments (South Africa have been the only other team to win, doing so in Glasgow 2014).
But Fiji then recovered from their Gold Coast disappointment to win in Singapore a fortnight later, beating Australia in the final and becoming the first team ever to win in both the Hong Kong Sevens and the Singapore Sevens.
But that may prove to be an aberration.
The first winners of the Singapore Rugby Sevens, when the event made its return to the HSBC World Sevens Series three year ago, were Kenya. No disrespect to the Shujaa, as they are known, but they have not done much since that victory over a tired Fiji, who failed to repeat their win in Hong Kong the previous week.
In fact, Kenya’s fall from that height has been spectacular, and they are now, along with fellow stragglers Wales and Japan, fighting to avoid relegation.
The second winners in Singapore, in 2017, were Canada, who upset North American neighbours the USA in the final. The Americans themselves had finished fourth in Hong Kong the previous weekend, while Hong Kong winners Fiji were knocked out in the quarterfinals in Singapore, as were Hong Kong runner-up South Africa.
Likely winner of the Singapore Rugby Sevens
So if you’re looking for a winner in Singapore this weekend, look beyond Fiji, France, the USA and even Samoa.
My tip would be New Zealand, South Africa or England, who had let themselves down last weekend and will be keen to make amends.
They also have the added Olympic incentive to go all out in Singapore (see final item below).
Is Singapore 7s a consolation prize?
So how can Singapore avoid being a consolation prize, an afterthought?
A simple fix would be to switch the tournaments around, with teams using Singapore as a springboard for Hong Kong.
Teams would go hard both weeks but would pace themselves differently, in order to peak nicely for the second week rather than the first.
The HSBC circuit tournaments work in pairs, but in no other two-city combo is the second city such a second fiddle.
If Singapore doesn’t work to fix this scheduling issue, then it is destined to always be playing hosts to teams suffering a sporting hangover.
Singapore still a crucial leg
All that being said, however, you cannot really fault the Singapore Sevens for all other aspects of the tournament: it’s just its timing that is flawed.
And this leg is definitely a pivotal one, as the race at the top tightens, with the likely series winner to be either the USA and Fiji.
Those two teams finished first and third in Hong Kong, which, statistically speaking, means they are the only contenders left to win the whole shebang.
New Zealand are thrid in the series standings, but finished only sixth in Hong Kong, and no team that has finished outside the top three in Hong Kong has ever won the HSBC series. The Kiwis will have to make some history to do it.
We’re not saying they can’t do it — if any team could beat the odds it would be the men from the Long White Cloud — but they have to win the Singapore leg to have a chance.
Standing in their way, besides the two leaders, are two other teams that seem to be getting better with each leg: the revived Samoa of Gordon Tietjens, and surprise packets France, who have finished second in the past two legs (Vancouver and Hong Kong). Could either break their duck in Singapore?
Then there are also the issues of Olympic qualification, and avoiding relegation from the series.
Still all to play for.
Even a caveman knows who is Number One
Singapore’s Straits Times newspaper reported last month that, according to a leaked World Rugby internal report, Singapore was ranked second
among the 10 World Sevens series venues while neighbourhood rivals Hong Kong was ranked only fifth.
Vancouver was ranked first, while Cape Town (South Africa) and Hamilton (NZ), were third and fourth, respectively.
Hong Kong’s ranking is surprising as the territory is the only leg that sells out consistently, and is the most important 7s leg to the players and the fans.
Anyone who has been to both the Hong Kong and Singapore tournaments will know that those rankings are hard to comprehend aside perhaps from the “family-friendly” and transport factors.
In any case, Hong Kong is hard to top, especially when it comes to bizarre entertainment. You have to travel more than 500 miles to see a stranger act than Sebastien “the Caveman” Chabal’s proclamation last weekend.
Olympic spot a race between South Africa and England
A place at the Tokyo Olympics next year beckons for the teams finishing in the top four of the series.
And with three legs to go, the race really comes down to the current top five: the USA (130 points), Fiji (123), New Zealand (118), South Africa (99), and England (90).
At this point, you could just about say that the top three have made it.
Australia out of it.
And Australia in 7th spot are out of it. For one thing, they haven’t won a single leg. But even if they win the remaining three legs, they still will not have enough points to overtake South African and/or New Zealand.
Sixth-placed Samoa could grab fourth spot but they would need to win or finish in the top three in the final three legs, and hope the South Africans and the English in fifth spot don’t make the quarter-finals in at least one of those legs – a very big ask.
So it means that the race is really between South Africa and England.
The gap between them is nine points. So England must finish better than South Africa by that total over three legs. (You can see how many points each position gets in page 3 of this document here: HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2018 Terms).
But a last chance in the regional qualifiers
As with the countries from the various regions, Australia, Samoa and Tonga have a last chance to make it to the Olympics with the regional qualifiers later in the year.