Planet Rugby

Preview: Las Vegas Sevens

23rd January 2014 11:16


blitzbokke las vegas sevens

Holders: South Africa

The fourth stop of the IRB World Sevens Series is Las Vegas where South Africa will hope to defend their title at Sam Boyd Stadium in Nevada.

Neil Powell's outfit enter the tournament on the back of the year-ending win on home soil and have been put with Kenya, Wales and Canada.

Series pace-setters New Zealand, who are missing Tomasi Cama due to injury, face a tough pool that consists of Fiji, Australia and Scotland.

Meanwhile, last year's third-place nation in Vegas, Samoa, take on Portugal, England and Uruguay while Argentina meet France, USA and Spain.

Current standings in 2013/14

1 New Zealand 58
2 South Africa 56
3 Fiji 48
4 England 40
5 Australia 34
6 Argentina 33
7 Kenya 32
8 Samoa 32
9 Wales 27
10 France 23
11 Portugal 19
12 Scotland 18
13 Canada 14
14 United States 9
15 Spain 4

Las Vegas Sevens Pools

Pool A: South Africa, Kenya, Wales, Canada

The Springbok Sevens will be aiming for a third title in four years at the Las Vegas Sevens and will look to maintain their form and momentum, which have resulted in a runners-up spot in Dubai and a much sought-after Cup win last December in Port Elizabeth, where they beat New Zealand.

Powell has made three changes, with Rosko Specman, Stephan Dippenaar and Seabelo Senatla replacing Cheslin Kolbe, Kwagga Smith and Steven Hunt.

Kenya, under Paul Treu, are sitting in seventh spot in the standings and in fact lost out to the Blitzbokke and Canada for Cup qualification in Vegas last year. Andrew Amonde is out but Humphrey Kayange, Oscar Ouma, Billy Odhiambo and Dennis Ombachi play. Collins Injera is skipper.

Canada are missing Ciaran Hearn for this tournament, who joins Nathan Hirayama and Sean Duke on the injury list. However, Geraint John's squad will be buoyed by recent performances in Las Vegas, lifting the Bowl and Plate in recent years. John Moonlights continues as Canada's captain.

Wales begin life without Paul John, who is now with Cardiff Blues, and start a new period under Gareth Williams. They are without playmaker Lee Williams due to injury while Chris Knight and Alex Webber are also ruled out. Rhys Jones and Rhys Shellard will add experience to their group.

Pool B: New Zealand, Fiji, Australia, Scotland

New Zealand's preparations have been hampered by injuries to Cama, Joe Webber and Sherwin Stowers. Gillies Kaka should do an excellent job in Cama's absence though while Waisake Naholo and David Raikuna are more than capable replacements coming into Gordon Tietjens' impressive squad.

Fiji have been in the news for the wrong reasons of late after Ben Ryan broke the news that he hadn't been paid in his new coaching role before the International Rugby Board then opting to suspend all direct financial support to the FRU with immediate effect until the Union adopts key financial reporting, administration and governance reforms. They are, however, boosted by their previous encounter with New Zealand; beating them 44-0.

Australia meanwhile won the Shield in Las Vegas last year but will be keen to make the Cup knockouts under Michael O'Connor and build on their current fifth place position in the standings. They will, however, be without Ed Jenkins, who injured himself in the gym prior to their flight.

Scotland coach Stephen Gemmell has retained seven of the twelve players that played in South Africa for the trip to Nevada. Captain Colin Gregor is there as a mainstay alongside Scott Riddell, Lee Jones, John Houston and Michael Maltman and they are all crucial to their qualification hopes.

Pool C: Samoa, Portugal, England, Uruguay

Samoa finished third in Las Vegas in 2013 and should navigate their way out of this group alongside England, with Portugal tricky but beatable. Viliamu Punivalu makes two changes from Port Elizabeth. Kelly Meafua makes his debut and experienced flyer Tom Iosefo comes back into the side.

Portugal, who did well to reach the Cup quarter-finals in Port Elizabeth, are missing key men in the likes of Pedro Leal and Frederico Oliveira.

Meanwhile, England coach Simon Amor gives the captaincy to Tom Mitchell, who takes over from Tom Powell. Mike Ellery returns to England's squad. Chris Cracknell and Christian Lewis-Pratt also return to the team in the place of John Brake, Sam Edgerley while Mat Turner misses out this time.

Luis Pedro Achard's Uruguay side are the only non-core team to feature this weekend and will hope to pick up some form ahead of the World Series promotion qualifier in Hong Kong in March, which they have already qualified for. Uruguay defeated Portugal last year to reach the Shield final.

Pool D: Argentina, France, USA, Spain

Santiago Gomez Cora has made six changes to his Argentina squad as Ramiro Moyano, Jeronimo de la Fuente, Lucas Alcacer, Axel Muller and Matias Moroni all miss out. Furthermore, Aníbal Panceyra Garrido replaces the injured Martín Chiappesoni. Lucas Maguire and Augusto Lopez Salashe debut.

France coach Frederic Pomarel will be without captain Vincent Deniau, who joins Jean-Baptiste Gobelet and Terry Bourahoua on their injury list. Sekou Macalou and Arthur Roulin are likely to make their Series debut for the team currently sitting in tenth spot after the opening three legs.

The host nation will be cheered on by their home fans at the 36,800 capacity Sam Boyd Stadium as they look to turn around what has been a tough opening to the season. Matt Hawkins' men sit in a disappointing fourteenth spot, with Carlin Isles set to be their star attraction once again.

Relegation threatened Spain couldn't have asked for a better group than the one drawn in Las Vegas, as they hope to pick up decent Series points. Jesus Delgado's side are lying in the dreaded fifteenth spot in the standings and are minus Ignacio Martin and Jaike Carter.