Preview: Glasgow Sevens
The European climax of the IRB Sevens World Series kicks off in Scotland with Round Eight this weekend.
The European climax of the IRB Sevens World Series kicks off in Scotland with Round Eight this weekend, the Glasgow Sevens at Scotstoun stadium on Saturday (May 4 ) and Sunday (May 5).
The event is a key stepping stone towards the World Cup Sevens in Moscow in June, but in the short term several nations have their eyes fixed on battles at the top and bottom of the Series table.
Defending Glasgow and Series champions New Zealand lead the overall race by 32 points.
However, just six points separate South Africa, Fiji and Samoa in second, third and fourth.
Meanwhile, at the bottom of the table the battle to avoid core team relegation guarantees intensity across the entire match schedule.
At the London Sevens at Twickenham next week (May 11 and 12) the core teams ranked 13th, 14th and 15th - after this week's Glasgow event - will play off for three core team places next season, with Asian champions Hong Kong, Russia, Zimbabwe, Tonga and Georgia.
Currently, tournament hosts Scotland are tied in joint 12th place with United States, above Portugal and Spain - meaning that Scotland and United States are most likely battling to out-perform each other in Glasgow and safeguard their core team status for 2013/14.
"It's not about the United States, it's not about anything else other than us doing our job this weekend," said Scotland coach, Stephen Gemmell.
"I've said to the players that it's not about playing the league table.
"We're in our home tournament, we've got three important games on Day One [against Portugal, England and New Zealand] and we've got a reasonability to deliver that."
With New Zealand the favourites to collect an 11th World Series title in 14 years at the Glasgow Sevens, the battle for second place is hotting up with two rounds remaining.
Tokyo Sevens champions South Africa currently sit second on 100 points, just two ahead of Fiji and a further four of Samoa, a side they face on day one in Pool A.
Samoa have won one Cup title this season, in Dubai, while their Pacific neighbours Fiji and South Africa are the only teams to have won two this season.
Between the three of them, they have won five of the seven Cups this season and despite holding the second position and going into this weekend's tournament off the back of victory in the last round, South Africa captain Frankie Horne is taking nothing for granted.
"We did poorly in Hong Kong so it [the win in Tokyo] was bittersweet," said Horne.
"But we want to keep our second place in the log, it is important. We are being hounded by Samoa and Fiji, so we just need to stick and fight it out to keep that second place.
"We cant make any promises though. The circuit is a beast of its own, it is one of the most challenging seasons this far. Five different winners from the first five tournaments is uncommon for a season."
Last year Fiji finished second behind New Zealand and their captain, Setefano Cakau, is hoping to defend that position in the same way they have successfully defended both of their Cup wins last season, in Australia and Hong Kong, this season.
"For us we know we are now working towards second place because New Zealand are too far away now.
"For us it will be a big boost. We are third at the moment, so we will have to work hard to reach second over the next two tournaments.
"For us our main target is to be first, it didn't happen so we want to be second. Samoa have done well and want it too but for us we will work hard to reach it as we were second last year."
Samoa have the services of pace men Tom Iosefo and Mikaele Pesamino back after both have been named in Faamoni Lalomilo's squad and appear up for the fight.
"It is good to have Tom and Mikaele both back. We are looking at second place when we prepared back home and know we have a chance to make it up there.
"We have a tough pool, South Africa are in it, but they are all a threat to us. We will try our best [to finish second], it is a big battle for us."
* The new format, allowing for promotion and relegation from core team status, was introduced this season to allow for a system that gives all Member Unions a transparent and merit-based opportunity to qualify for the Series, and ultimately the Olympic Games in 2016.
"In the short term, this battle for Series points is wonderful news for the fans as it guarantees even more quality and intensity," said IRB Chairman Bernard Lapasset.
"Going forward our Olympic debut in Rio in 2016, it is important that the opportunity exists for all nations to progress to Series core team status if they are good enough.
"We are confident that this system provides every nation competing in their regional qualifying tournament with a direct chance to compete on every round of the World Series, and also ensures a transparent opportunity-for-all pathway to the Games."
Pool A: South Africa, Samoa, Kenya, Canada
Pool B: New Zealand, Scotland, England, Portugal
Pool C: Australia, Fiji, Argentina, Spain
Pool D: France, United States, Wales, Russia
Australia v Argentina, 10.30
Fiji v Spain, 10.52
France v Wales, 11.14
United States v Russia, 11.36
South Africa v Kenya, 11.58
Samoa v Canada, 12.20
New Zealand v England, 12.42
Scotland v Portugal, 13.04
Australia v Spain, 13.36
Fiji v Argentina, 13.58
France v Russia, 14.20
United States v Wales, 14.42
South Africa v Canada, 15.04
Samoa v Kenya, 15.26
New Zealand v Portugal, 15.48
Scotland v England, 16.10
Argentina v Spain, 16.47
Wales v Russia, 17.09
Kenya v Canada, 17.31
England v Portugal, 17.53
Australia v Fiji, 18.15
France v United States, 18.37
South Africa v Samoa, 18.59
New Zealand v Scotland, 19.21
With thanks to the IRB