After a pulsating HSBC Canada Sevens, we caught up with former England captain Rob Vickerman to get his views on the Vancouver crowd, the stellar performance of his countrymen and whether anyone can catch series leaders South Africa.
"I was so impressed with the HSBC Canada Sevens. In just its second year, it is already a fantastic tournament. Phenomenal. In fact, it is so good I would say it’s of Hong Kong standards.
People arrived early at the ground, they were a proper rugby crowd, knowledgeable about the game and fully engaged in the on-field action. That is the most important thing but, also, they understood the fun aspect of the tournament. The fancy dress levels made it for me – there was a wonderful atmosphere. People didn’t take themselves too seriously and they struck the perfect balance of enjoying the party while, first and foremost, being there to watch the rugby.
Of course, it helped that we saw some serious quality on the field. There weren’t too many blow-outs, there was a consistency of performance with a huge number of really close, intense and thrilling games. And the crowd reacted amazingly to what they saw. Naturally, the biggest cheers were reserved for Canada but there were Fijian fans, Samoans, South Africans, English and more, and every team was cheered.
The home team did well by getting to the quarter-finals and an agonising one-point loss to New Zealand in the pool meant they had to face South Africa in the round of eight. But even when Canada went out of the tournament, the crowds stayed and enjoyed the tournament for what it was – an amazing festival of world-class rugby sevens.
What I hope it will do is give the game in Canada a massive boost. We saw kids playing between matches on the same surface as the world’s best and I’m sure that was a huge thrill for those young players, who will remember it and cherish that experience. Hopefully that will inspire them to stay in the game and become part of the next generation of top Canadian rugby players.
Another legacy of the tournament was the announcement of HSBC’s investment in Canada’s Rookie Rugby mass-participation programme that is introducing girls and boys to rugby all over the country. It’s a fantastic initiative and part of HSBC’s commitment to grass-roots rugby.
Hard to find a weakness
Back to the big boys, though, and I was delighted with how England performed. They looked really good throughout both days. They’ve got that consistency now which is so important. There is a core group of players, who play together really well and know each other so well. They are not necessarily the best players on the series in their respective positions but, as a team, they are delivering to the highest standards.
Add to that the star quality of Dan Norton and you can see why they are the only team to threaten South Africa’s dominance this season.
That said, with four rounds left, I’m finding it harder and harder to see how anyone can catch the Blitzboks. There’s still a chance they could be reeled in but Philip Snyman’s side are a whole victory ahead and they have this incredible spirit that makes them so tough to beat. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it.
They are all good blokes – annoyingly nice – and it’s impossible to dislike them. To illustrate that, on one of the days in Vancouver they stopped the team bus at the side of the road to help a woman change a tyre on her car when she got a flat. It’s a story that transcends sport and goes some way to explain the spirit they have within themselves. I don’t see a weakness in South Africa at the moment.
So, the series moves on to Hong Kong and I, for one, can’t wait. It’s a three-day tournament with qualifiers and all sorts of other rugby activities going at the same time. It’s a huge week of rugby and they know how to run a party.
One thing that will encourage the other teams is that for some reason South Africa don’t seem to play well there and have never won it. No doubt head coach Neil Powell will use that as further motivation for his team and tell them if they want to be superstars, they have to take down Hong Kong. To be honest, the way they are playing I wouldn’t bet against it.