- Consistency key to winning DHL Impact Player Award
- The trend in rugby sevens is towards more physicality
- This season, Russia, France, USA and Canada Women are capable of breaking NZ and Australian dominance
- As always, the New Zealand Men’s side will be hard to beat in 2019
Since its debut at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, rugby sevens has continued to grow, engage and attract record audiences around the world. The HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series starts in Colorado 20-21 October for the women’s teams and the men kick off in Dubai 30th November - 1st December. This year, 6 women’s and 10 men’s tournaments will be held across 5 continents with colourful stadiums packed with fans enjoying the fast-paced action.
Adding to this appeal has been the DHL Impact Player Award. The DHL Impact Player Award recognises the individual efforts players make to support their team with carries, tackles, line breaks and offloads. It’s not just the try scorers, but the try makers that are celebrated.
Ahead of the 2019 HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series, we ask DHL rugby sevens ambassador and former England 7s captain, Rob Vickerman for his take on last season’s DHL Impact Player Award.
Michaela Blyde and Justin Douglas topped the DHL Impact Player Award overall standings last year, what is it about their skillset that saw them top the table against such terrific competition?
Consistency was the most impressive part – they both seldom come off the pitch! Their fitness and durability is remarkable, and both have an ability to make a huge carry, or support an offload and run in 60m – and do it again a few more times!
In 2016/17, Sam Cross topped the DHL Impact Player Award table with 359 points. Douglas was 4th on 310 in the same season. What did Justin add to his game in the 2017/18 season to help him top the table?
Without a doubt, Justin became an all-round go-to man for Canada this year. His impact was seen not only in being the default carrier for the Canadian team, but he turned into a creator. To gain 55 breaks and 31 offloads from 192 carries was a testament to this. The team played a much more direct game in 2017/18 which meant that he was needed more than ever to make the difference.
His impact was seen not only in being the default carrier for the Canadian team, but he turned into a creator.Rob Vickerman
To compare the two players, in 2016/17, Sam Cross offloaded twice as often as Douglas did this year. Tell us about the different roles Cross & Douglas play for their sides.
Sam Cross is an abrasive, direct Forward, whereas Justin Douglas is the man who finishes off most chances he gets. His pace sets him apart from Cross, which means that a Douglas support line turns into a line break, rather than Cross who would get caught but use his long arms to keep the ball alive.
Michaela Blyde makes so many line breaks – 75% of her carries result in them! Just how powerful an attacking weapon does that make her for New Zealand?
New Zealand have one of the most lethal partnerships in Rugby. Portia Woodman, who stars on the opposite side from Michaela, uses her power and speed to devastating effect, and more of than not does so in tandem with the guile of Blyde the following phase. The two outstanding players complement each other, and the rest of the team are happy to be link players creating the space for the two pacey players.
How has sevens changed on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series? Are there any trends you’re seeing in the way teams approach the game?
The trend of the game of sevens is not far behind that of XV’s. The physicality of the players is going through exponential growth. The collisions are bigger, the frequency of them is higher, and the teams are now so fit they can do this for much longer. Breakdowns are turning into pivotal moments of possession competition, and turnovers are seeing more tries than ever as the defence are not structured.
A very small number of players regularly rack up offloads in the DHL Impact Player Award standings. Is this because it’s such a tough skill to master? Who does particularly well in this area in the men’s and women’s game?
If you say offloads, you often follow it by mentioning Fiji. Viewers will marvel at both their Men and Women’s ability to make the ball look like it has been superimposed. Their touch, dexterity and creativity is a thing to behold – and even more impressive given the Women have much smaller hands than the spade like objects of most of the Fiji men’s team!
This is a huge year as it is part of the Olympic Qualification route enabling the top 4 in both the men’s and women’s standings to be booked in for Tokyo 2020.Rob Vickerman
The DHL Impact Player Award has highlighted some great newcomers this season. How does the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series develop young players?
Young players will seldom get a chance to develop such a range of skills in a rugby environment. They will have more actions in a sevens tournament than they will in half a season of XV’s and will do so against outstanding opponents, under huge fatigue in some of the best stadiums all over the world – how can you not improve?! They also focus their training on the core concepts of rugby; so skill development, tackling ability and their attacking skills will improve significantly.
Who have you got your eye on this year in terms of the DHL Impact Player Award?
I think the Australians will have had a whole summer with their new coach Tim Walsh, and as we saw last year, Ben O’Donnell will exhibit his prowess on many occasions, and do enough to secure the title. For the Women, it is tough to look past the Black Fearns, but I will do – and the up-and-coming French team are spear headed by Camille Grassineau – 3rd in 2018, she is the one to look out for!
What do you think this season will bring – in the DHL Impact Player Award and in the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series? Do you predict any teams to shock the big guns this year?
Series wide, this is a huge year as it is part of the Olympic Qualification route enabling the top 4 in both the men’s and women’s standings to be booked in for Tokyo 2020. The Women’s teams are approaching on breaking the dominance of NZ and Australia, with Russia, France, USA and Canada capable of turning them over. The Men’s will have more of a competitive feel to it after Fiji and South Africa’s dominance claiming 7 Gold’s, 3 Silvers and 4 Bronze medals between them. New Zealand as double Rugby World Cup winners will be threatening, and USA have to have a more consistent year to build on their sole medal from last year.
It will be an absolute rugby-fest in a fantastic location with outstanding weather…what’s not to like!Rob Vickerman
Tell us where you’re most excited to go on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series this year and why?
Dubai is not only the first name on the list for the men’s leg, but it proves a wonderful chance to see the newly formed teams, kits and off-season progressions. The whole event brings together a social tournament, veterans teams of stars gone by, and obviously the men’s and women’s elite on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series. It will be an absolute rugby-fest in a fantastic location with outstanding weather…what’s not to like!
Who’s your pick to win the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series titles this year?
Big call – I believe it is a year for the New Zealand Men to reclaim their dominance. Clark Laidlaw has developed some wonderful layers, good structures and a transformational leadership style which can sometimes take a while to embed. The Rugby World Cup Sevens showed their class, and that will buoy them on in a year when every win counts.
The women’s HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series is becoming more competitive; however, it still is likely to be a two-horse race given the consistency you need over the season. However, with a balance of power, passing and playmakers almost unrivalled, New Zealand look so impressive across the whole squad and will be tough to stop taking the gold. They have lost just 3 games in two years but were silver medallists last year – which will surely spur them on.