The 2016-17 HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series opened in December 2016 with two rounds of exciting action in Dubai and Cape Town. South Africa looks more ready than ever to take the series, Fiji arrives in Wellington without some silverware for the first time since 2011 and England is in fine form. England’s Dan Norton served up some stunning stats over the two incredible opening weeks, nabbing the DHL Impact Player Award at both rounds.
South Africa & England
Two tournaments down and already the Blitzboks have made two finals, winning the Cup in Dubai against Fiji 26-14, and losing a close final to England in Cape Town 19-17. They sit atop the series standings and have never looked more energized. A bronze medal at 2016 Rio Olympic Games and a fourth consecutive runner-up spot in the last series seems to have suitably motivated them to begin their 2016-17 Series charge. The squad delivers and all-round sevens package, with speedsters like Rosko Specman, 2016 Wellington Sevens DHL Impact Player, and Seabelo Senatla, who competed nearly every week for Impact Player honors, combined with powerful forwards like Chris Dry and Werner Kok.
England have had their best start in the opening two rounds of the series since 2011-12. After finishing third in Dubai, beating Wales 38-10 in the bronze medal match, they shocked home team South Africa – and the Rugby world – in Cape Town with a narrow win to take the title for the first time since April 2015. DHL Impact Player and joint top try-scorer Dan Norton alongside teammates Ruaridh McConnochie, Tom Mitchell and Richard de Carpentier are all in fine fettle heading into the HSBC Wellington Sevens. Currently ranked second in the world, an unchanged squad will take the pitch to face Kenya, Argentina and Papua New Guinea in Pool A.
An Impact Player hat trick?
With England in fine form, Dan Norton is in an equally fine position to continue his exciting run for DHL Impact Player Award honors. With 33 tackles, 14 line breaks, 10 offloads and 45 carries, Norton is not only an integral part of Simon Amor’s side, he’s is making a huge impact on his team’s overall performance.
It was a pretty surreal match against South Africa.Dan Norton, England Sevens Winger
England certainly showed the world that they’re a side fully capable of contesting for the 2016-17 Series title. But it was Norton’s individual performances that caught the eye. In Cape Town the 28-year-old racked up 19 tackles, 8 breaks, 25 carries and 5 offloads, giving him a whopping overall total of 57 points. At the opening round in Dubai, Norton was also all over the field, notching up 14 tackles, 6 breaks, 20 carries and 5 offloads.
Norton wants to get the ball and run with it – that’s obvious with 45 carries in two tournaments, but what’s almost more impressive is his work on the other side of the ball. “No longer is he just the finisher,” says former English Sevens Captain, Rob Vickerman, “he’s also the try saver.” 33 tackles over two rounds is an incredible achievement for a player not necessarily known for his defense.
No longer is he just the finisher, he’s also a try saver.Rob Vickerman, on being at the final in Cape Town
"I've really stuck at my tackling and the boys around me in the side have helped give me the confidence to progress in my game. We're looking forward to Wellington."
Norton won’t be the only player to watch as we head into Rounds 3 and 4 in Wellington and Sydney. While the English winger tops the DHL Series Performance Tracker with 102 points overall, USA's star Perry Baker and Kenya's up-and-comer Billy Odhiambo are not too far behind at 86 points. Team USA is always a threat, especially when the Eagles’ speedster is on the field. Young Billy ‘The Kid’ turned a lot of heads in the 2015-16 Series, though an injury kept him out of several rounds and the points. A hat-trick in Kenya’s 24-0 win over Brazil on the final day of play at the Rio 2016 left an impressive mark on a solid season. With 24 tackles, 11 line breaks, 41 carries and 10 offloads, the kid looks to continue his top performance.
Other familiar names have topped the Performance Tracker so far. South Africa’s lethal weapon Seabelo Senatla was a mere one point behind Norton in Dubai, with Fiji captain Osea Kolinisau only four points behind. Though neither topped the leaderboard in Cape Town, these high impact players are sure to make strong statements going forward and be competing for 2016-17 DHL Impact Player honors.
WATCH: Rob Vickerman’s wrap up of the DHL Impact Player of the 2016 HSBC Cape Town Sevens