The fourth round of the 2014/15 Sevens World Series gets underway at the Westpac Stadium in Wellington on Friday, with teams vying for all-important series points.
With a third of the series gone, Round Four in Wellington continues the journey for all the participating teams as the road to Rio heats up.
At the end of the nine rounds this year, the top four teams will automatically qualify for the Olympics, with South Africa, Fiji, New Zealand and Australia currently occupying those spots.
With the top four impressing in the early stages, there are many sides, and players, waiting in the shadows and looking to challenge.
Argentina are fifth with England, who are qualifying on behalf of Team GB, sixth ahead of Samoa, Scotland, USA, Wales, France, Canada, Portugal, Kenya and Japan.
The make-up and balance of squads is more crucial than ever with Olympic qualifying guaranteed only for the top four this season, and now nearing the halfway stage.
Neil Powell’s Blitzboks won the previous two rounds in Dubai and Port Elizabeth and have named the most-experienced side at the Wellington Sevens, while Fiji were victorious in the opening tournament on Australia’s Gold Coast.
Powell’s 12-man squad boasts a combined record total of 314 tournaments, Frankie Horne leading the way with 62, as they look to overturn last year’s loss to New Zealand in the final and complete a hat-trick of series titles this season.
Despite their victories in Dubai and on home soil in Port Elizabeth, Powell knows they face a tough two-day assignment in Wellington.
“Although we won the previous two tournaments, we all know it will require another tremendous effort to get through the pool stages in Wellington.”
“We want to focus on our tournament goals and those are to be consistent and to reach the knockout stages,” Powell said.
South Africa face France in their opening game in Pool A before taking on France and Japan. In Pool B, New Zealand come up against England, Canad and Papua New Guinea.
Pool C includes Australia, Fiji, Wales and Portugal while Argentina, Scotland, Kenya and Samoa make up Pool D.
The hosts for this weekend’s tournament are also the defending champions and will be hoping to win their first Cup of the season.
“We can’t promise a win, but we can promise we’ll be going out and giving 200%,” said All Blacks Sevens coach Gordon Tietjens.
“We would have liked to have started a bit better this season but we are not far off and a good performance here backed up in Vegas will put us right back in the reckoning. In amongst that we want to be in the top four, that is huge for us, because qualification for the Olympics is very much on the agenda for us.”
Tim Mikkelson, the 2013 Sevens Player of the Year was a late withdrawal for the hosts New Zealand, while last year’s winner Samisoni Viriviri returns for Fiji with Ben Ryan making five changes for the side in second behind the Blitzboks.
England are without Dan Norton, Dan Bibby and Phil Burgess, but have named Warwick Lahmert in their side who has represented the All Blacks Sevens before.
Interestingly only 13 players are set to make their debut for the 15 core teams, one of which is Lahmert.
As well as the 16 captains gathering for the official launch of the Sevens Wellington following the annual street parade in Wellington on the eve of the tournament, the top four captains also posed for the media as interest grows around who will be the first to guarantee their spots.
Brazil, who have already qualified as the hosts of the Rio Olympics, will also be in action in round five of the series in Las Vegas next weekend.
Here we look at five players we believe you should look out for this weekend.
Samisoni Viriviri, Fiji: The Fijian flyer last appeared in London in 2014, and finished the season as the leading try scorer and went on to win the sevens player of the year award. Not that Fiji have been short of pace this season as they sit second in the series standings, Viriviri will add an extra dimension to their game having scored 80 tries in just 16 tournaments.
Warwick Lahmert, England: Lahmert has played for New Zealand before, and won the World Series title with them after winning the London Sevens in 2013, but now finds himself in the England setup for the first time. England will be without key players such as Dan Bibby, Dan Norton and Phil Burgess, but keep an eye on Lahmert who will be ready for the challenge that faces him this weekend.
Seabelo Senatla, South Africa: You can’t not keep an eye on the South Africa flyer, who leads the way in the try scoring tally for the season with 20, two ahead of Pama Fou. The scorer of the fans’ favourite try in both Dubai and South Africa, Senatla will be looking to pick up where he left off last year, and all teams will be wary of his threat out wide.
Collins Injera, Kenya: Injera returns to add not only speed but also vital experience for the Kenyans, with 51 tournaments already under his belt. Hunting down Santiago Gomez Cora’s try-scoring record, Injera is only 41 away from joing the Argentinean coach on 230 career tries and will be looking to score as many as he can this weekend.
Pama Fou, Australia: Made his debut back in 2011 but has really started to come of age under the tutelage of Geraint John. Showed tremendous speed and athleticism as a crucial weapon in Australia’s march to the Cup final in Dubai. Missed last year’s series with injury but won’t be missing from too many highlight reels if his form continues and currently sits second on the overall series try scoring tally.
Pools for Wellington:
Pool A: South Africa, USA, France, Japan
Pool B: New Zealand, England, Canada, Papua New Guinea
Pool C: Australia, Fiji, Wales, Portugal
Pool D: Argentina, Scotland, Kenya, Samoa
With thanks to World Rugby