Preview: Wellington Sevens

Date published: February 6 2014

Wellington hosts the fifth leg of the IRB World Sevens Series with South Africa hoping to win their third successive tournament.

Wellington hosts the fifth leg of the 2013/14 IRB World Sevens Series with South Africa hoping to win their third successive tournament.

This after they claimed back-to-back victories at the Nelson Mandela Bay Sevens in South Africa last December and the Las Vegas Sevens in the United States last month.

South Africa face 2013 Cup winners England in Pool A alongside Wales and Portugal.

The Blitzbokke will face stiff competition from tournament hosts New Zealand, who are trailing South Africa by a point at the top of the series standings. The hosts are in the same pool as France Fiji and Spain.

Pool C comprises of Las Vegas semi-finalists Canada, Argentina, Scotland and the USA while in Pool D, Samoa will do battle with Australia, Kenya and Tonga.

Current standings in 2013/14

1 South Africa 78
2 New Zealand 77
3 Fiji 56
4 England 53
5 Samoa 47
6 Australia 46
7 Argentina 43
8 Kenya 39
9 France 33
10 Wales 32
11 Canada 31
12 Scotland 23
13 Portugal 20
14 United States 12
15 Spain 6

Wellington Sevens Pools

Pool A: South Africa, England, Wales, Portugal

As the team at the top of the overall standings, South Africa will fancy their chances of winning in Wellington for the first time since 2002.

Coach Neil Powell was forced to make two injury enforced changes to his squad with Seabelo Senatla and Rosko Specman returning to South Africa. They have been replaced by Jamba Ulengo and Kwagga Smith.

Defending champions England will be determined to hold on to their crown, but also to improve on their showing in Las Vegas where they won the plate section after being losing to New Zealand in the quarter-finals.

Their coach Simon Amor has made two changes to his squad with experienced playmaker Matt Turner and debutant 17-stone (108 kg) wing Callum Wilson replacing Christian Lewis-Pratt and Alex Gray respectively.

Wales suffered a setback when their captain Adam Thomas was ruled out through injury. Coach Gareth Williams has brought in Iolo Evans as Thomas' replacement while Rhys Jones takes over the captaincy.

Portugal coach Pedro Netto Fernadez has made one change to his side, recalling Francisco Appleton with Bernardo Batista dropping out.

Pool B: New Zealand, France, Fiji, Spain

The hosts have been boosted by the return of veteran playmaker Tomasi Cama, who didn't play in Las Vegas due to injury.

Cama is one of three changes to coach Gordon Tietjens' side and is joined in the 12-man group by Ben Lam and 18-year-old forward Akira Ioane who will make his debut. They replace the suspended Sam Dickinson, Mark Jackman and Matt Moulds.

New Zealand started the series with a win on the Gold Coast but then came unstuck against Fiji in the semi-finals in Dubai before losing to the Blitzbokke in the finals in South Africa and the United States. They know anything less than victory in Wellington will be seen as failure by their home fans.

France did well in Las Vegas before losing to Canada in the quarter-finals. They have a young squad with plenty of potential but were dealt a blow when playmaker Stephen Parez had to withdraw through injury in the only change to their squad. He is replaced by Vincent Inigo.

Fiji coach Ben Ryan has made just one change to his squad with Viliame Mata making his debut at the expense of Pio Tuwai.

They are third in the standings but know they will have to do much better than their Las Vegas showing – where they won the bowl competition – if they want to keep up with the frontrunners.

Spain coach Jesus Delgado has made two changes to his squad that were shield runners-up in Las Vegas. Gautier Minguillon and Manuel Sainz-Trapaga repalce Alberto Diaz and Ryan le Roux.

Pool C: Canada, Argentina, Scotland, USA

Canada caused some major upsets in Las Vegas before bowing out to New Zealand in the Cup semi-finals.

They registered their best-ever Series finish when they beat Samoa in the third place play-off. Their coach Geraint John has recalled Natham Hirayama, Sean Duke and Ciaran Hearn – who have recovered from injury – as well as Lucas Hammond. They come in for Sean White, Jordan Wilson-Ross, Sean Ferguson and Duncan Maguire.

Argentina are always a dangerous side and reached the quarter-finals in Las Vegas. New coach Santiago Gomez Cora has kept faith with the same players that were in action in Las Vegas.

With none of the tournament's big guns in their pool, Scotland will fancy their chances of progressing to the quarter-finals. Coach Stephen Gemmell has recalled Darren Gillespie with Lee Jones dropping out of the squad.

The USA have battled this season and are trailing in 14th spot in the standings. After winning the shield on their home leg, coach Matt Hawkins has made two changes, with Madison Hughes making his debut in the place of Stephen Tomasin and Garrett Bender taking over from Nu'u Punimata.

Pool D: Samoa, Australia, Kenya, Tonga

After a slow strt to the Series, Samoa have bounced back with third and fourth place finishes in South Africa and the United States respectively. Coach Viliamu Punivalu has been forced to make a change to his squad, that were in action in Las Vegas, with Patrick Faapale replacing the suspended Sani Niue.

Australia have regressed since finishing as runners-up on their home leg on the Gold Coast in the Series opener. They have been boosted by the return of captain Ed Jenkins, however. Jenkins, who didn't play in Las Vegas due to injury, returns to coach Michael O'Connor's squad with Jordan Tuapou missing out on selection.

Kenya coach Paul Treu has picked the same 12-man squad that did duty in Las Vegas. Crowd favourites Kenya are currently in eighth place in the standings but were the surprise packages in Wellington last year. After beating New Zealand in the semi-finals, they lost in sudden death extra time to England in the final.

Tonga make their first Series appearance since bowing out in the shield semi-finals on the Gold Coast. Feleti Atiola, Tevita Manumua and Samu Fiefia will make their series debuts.