In the first of two columns, USA Sevens coach Mike Friday talks about his team's aims and objectives ahead of what promises to be the most fascinating HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series yet.
The beauty of the HBSC World Rugby Sevens Series is that it is so many things to so many people. For different countries it serves different purposes. For New Zealand and Australia it is part of the player development pathway, and every now and again they find one or two players who step up. Then you’ve got those countries who don’t use it as a pathway and have specialists sevens teams, England being an example of that at the moment, and finally teams like us, in tier two, who use the series as a way of competing on a world stage.
Last season we went from nowhere to somewhere to finish sixth. Had we not got off to a slow start we could have made the top four, which is what we’ll be striving for this year. It would be a massive over performance for us if we achieved that, but that’s where we want to be. Unfortunately wanting and doing it are two completely different things because it is such a competitive series.
Halloween Sevens - missed trick or treat?
In truth, our pre-season has been a little bit dis-jointed and fragmented. We lost six players to the Rugby World Cup and they’ve only just come back to us. We had one tournament before assembling for a High Performance camp on 15 November – the Halloween Sevens in Tampa. We had two teams and were joined by Argentina and Canada, the two finalists, and four other hand-selected All-Star teams including United States Military Selects, NYC Sevens, Denver Men’s Selects and Columbus Sevens.
We were a bit hit and miss but it was a good benchmark for us. It showed us where we were at, and kind of gave the players a wake-up call. Yes, they did so well last year and we shocked everybody by going from nowhere to somewhere, but the hard part is backing that up. I’ve previously described the squad as being a bit like a boy band in terms of its make-up, because there are so many different characters from different backgrounds involved, and for us the 2015-16 series is like releasing your second album after the first has been a massive hit … you’re always a bit nervous about living up to it. I am hoping Tampa enabled the boys to take stock and we can move forward from there.
We are going to be undercooked in the first tournament, without a shadow of doubt, but that won’t stop us from trying to break the hold of the ‘super nations’ and get into the top four. Our player pool is relatively small but if we can keep everyone fit and healthy and move in the right direction, I think we’ll have a pretty good idea of where need to be by February.
Every country is going to have to take a calculated decision in the series as to when they de-load from a conditioning point of view during the series, especially if they’re trying to build and peak towards Rio. Again, it’s a case of no one size fits all. Australia’s first focus was on actually getting to Rio by winning the Oceania Sevens, so where they’re at in terms of their programme will be different to others.
Also, the big thing in sevens is confidence and confidence comes from winning. That said, do Canada worry too much about results in this year’s series – or do they pick their team with next year’s world repechage in mind? By the same token they don’t want to risk getting relegated from the series. One thing's for sure, it'll be fascinating to see how it all pans out.
Next week: 'The battle of the breakdown'. Mike Friday gives his expert insight into one of the key tactical issues that are likely to dominate the series as well as looking at the challenges faced by 15s players.