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Monday, January 19, 2009

England draw USA in Sevens World Cup

Today's draw for the Sevens World Cup saw No. 1 seeds England snag the most dangerous of he competitions non-seeds - USA - in Group B of the tournament.

As this is the first World Cup the IRB ensured that at least one nation from each of the regional federations was seeded. One result of this was that countries like Japan and South Africa were seeded ahead of USA and France, which in theory could have resulted in some massive "groups of death".  However, by and large this was avoided as the clash matching England with the USA has been balanced by their being pitted against Japan and Russia.

In fact the nearest thing to a "Group of Death" is in Group A where Oceania champions and No. 2 seeds Australia have an interesting challenge with games against Netherlands, France and China. In theory Australia should go through, but this really is a group where no results would truly be seen as a surprise. Netherlands finished runners-up behind only England and well ahead of France in the European qualifiers, while China are a real unknown - though their few forays into 
international rugby have often been remarkably successful.

Canada will have few problems in Group C where they face Brazil, Spain and surprise Asian qualifiers Thailand - however a fascinating and unpredictable battle royal between these three for runners-up spot in the group can be expected.

Finally Group D should also see New Zealand safely into the quarter-finals with South Africa and Italy fighting for second place while Uganda (who the IRB strangely allowed to be drawn in the same group as their fellow African qualifier) really compete for experience.

England captain Sue Day is looking forward to the challenge - "Because funding is unequal it tends to be more in the regions that you play each other. The exception has been USA and Canada, who do get around the world quite a bit and that is what is so wonderful about the World Cup, you get to challenge yourself against the best in the world."

Speaking of England's pool, Sue also said "We have played USA quite a bit before, I’ve seen Russia but don’t think we have ever played them* and have never played Japan. It is exciting, we’ve never had the opportunity to play these sides. It looks like a tough pool, although I suppose they are all pretty tough groups and I’m looking forward to the challenge. We saw Russia play at the Europeans and they have a couple of real speedsters. USA have got a very strong group and have a great tradition of Sevens so we know how good they are and Japan are a complete unknown."

The tournament runs from 5th-7th March, in between two rounds of the Six Nations - a fact that may make Italy, England, and France carefully consider where their priorities are. 

A tournament for men's teams will also be played at the same time

*Actually Sue has a short memory as England played Russia at Sevens as recently as 2007, England winning 45-0 in that year's FIRA European championships. England also played Russia at 15s twice, last also in 2007 - winning 62-0 - as well as back in 1994, where the score was 66-0. However Sue is right to say that England have never played Japan before, at sevens or fifteens.

England have also played USA many times - and at Sevens have quite a poor record against their North American rivals, losing two of their three games. The first was in the 1999 Hong Kong Sevens where England went down 24-5 following which England lost again 10-0 at the same event in 2001. However England did win their last encouter 5-0, also at Hong Kong in 2003 and the two teams are due to meet again before the World Cup in San Diego in February. England have also won 8 of their 9 match-ups at 15s.

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