With the European Games behind us, it is time to wrap up the summer of 7s – with the second rounds of Championship and Trophy hitting us this upcoming weekend.
The Trophy division has been affected the most by the ‘home nations’ decision to drop their respective 7s program and move to a united GB team. Among other things, it meant that the spaces previously held by 3 teams have now been reduced – therefore leaving 2 spots empty. In turn, that meant that all 4 top teams from the 2022 Trophy moved up, as did the top 4 from Conference who are now in Trophy. This created a hybrid Trophy tournament and for the first time in many years, there were no traditional power teams represented there – with the exception of Ukraine who, to the delight of many, managed to scramble together a team and had a very convincing run through the first round.
So what should we expect this weekend?
Ukraine should finish with a clear 3-0 run through the pool. Bulgaria, on the other hand, will have to show tremendous grit and determination to keep low scores. Their chances of getting a win in the pool stage are quite low, but, if they manage to get to the 9-12 playoff ranked as 1-2 that could potentially help them avoid relegation.
Game to watch in this pool – Austria and Hungary. Austria, last years’ Conference winners, had a tremendous run in the first round, including a 21-12 win over Hungary in the 5-8 playoff. However, don’t count Hungary out – they are a very experienced team and they are playing at home.
Pool B is almost identical to how it was in the first round, with Turkey now replacing Finland as the top team. There are two story lines to follow in this pool. The first – Turkey and Norway are fresh out of the European Games, where Norway actually beat Turkey 10-7. The questions that will need answering are, have both teams recovered from these exciting 3 days? For Turkey, one will wonder if their confidence took a hit as their aim (according to a social media post by their coach) was to finish in the top 8 (and they finished 12).
The other story line is about relegation: For Norway, having beat Turkey and also after managing to keep Czechia to a very low score, there should be a big confidence boost as they finished 11th in the first round and will need a big showing this weekend. Their big game is against Israel (climbing up from 12th last year to currently 8th), who beat them 17-14 in the last round. This game could determine not only Norway’s final position, but could also push another team into that 11th spot. It’s all open!
Just a quick word on Latvia – for many years, this team was the dark horse of Conference, with a late covid test arguably costing them a spot in the final in 2021. Their strong performance in the first round (tainted by a very rare red card for referee abuse) showed they have (finally) arrived.
This pool is like a soap opera. Finland will play Georgia in a rematch of their 3-4 game! Denmark plays Moldova in a rematch of their 9-10 game! Finland will play Denmark in a Scandinavian rivalry game! Georgia will flex their muscles vs their old foes Moldova! All drama, all the time. Seriously though, this is a very hard pool to predict. Georgia, one of the most prepared teams in this years’ tournament, will be the first to say they had a very disappointing first round. They are definitely guilty of over playing it – and it cost them dearly as they finished 4th. Finland still dream of promotion and a strong performance coupled with a fumble by Turkey could very well make that happen.
On the flip side, Denmark and Moldova will be desperate to avoid relegation, and here as well, it is the game between them that draws the most attention. The final between the two teams was very, very close, so all is there to play for!
With Ukraine and Bulgaria in pool A (Bulgaria finished with a staggering -108 in the pool stages) it is a pretty safe bet to say that the 3rd ranked team from Pool A will go through to the QF. This means that Israel and Norway in Pool B and Denmark and Moldova in Pool C will all compete for that remaining 3rd spot along with a low point difference.