PREVIEW: Paris Sevens
WORLD SERIES ROUND NINE: South Africa take to the Stade Jean-Bouin pitch in Paris this weekend in the knowledge that they could break Olympic champions Fiji's hold on the World Rugby Sevens Series title.
Fiji have been crowned champions over the last two seasons, but go into the ninth and penultimate round of the series 25 points behind the Blitzbokke.
With 22 points on offer for tournament winners, the scenario realistically means Fiji have to target wins in Paris and series-ender London, on May 20-21, and South Africa fail to make the knockout rounds.
Added spice comes from the fact that the two sides could meet in the quarterfinals in the French capital, where Samoa were winners last season.
However, captain Philip Snyman insists his side are taking nothing for granted and are focused only on improving from the last round.
"We're really looking forward to the sevens in Paris this upcoming weekend. We had a nice break in Stellenbosch since Singapore and we worked hard. We want to fix some mistakes this weekend," he said.
"The guys who are joining for Paris are looking really sharp. We have guys like Rosko Specman coming back in and the team is in good spirits."
Snyman's new teammate, Dewald Human is eager to leave a footprint in Paris.
Once a prominent tennis player, the small-statured debutant will hope his true inspiration for performing on Saturday and Sunday though will come from driving past Roland Garros this week, for so long his field of dreams.
"We drive past the stadium from our hotel to the training ground and I can only smile thinking back at my dreams to play at the highest level here in Paris. I never thought, at that time, that my dreams would actually become a reality as a rugby player," Human said.
"I always wanted to play for the whole of South Africa here in Paris and now I actually will, but in a totally different sport. In the end, is does not really matter. I still had to work really hard to get here and for that I feel pretty humble and proud. The one thing about the Blitzboks are the values. Things like respect, brotherhood and always putting the team first is just so easy to fall in line with."
Human was out of action for most of the year due to a groin injury but now gets his opportunity to show why he should be associated with the leading team in the World Rugby Sevens Series.
"When I was presented with my training jersey, Philip (Snyman, Blitzboks captain) asked me to leave a benchmark in this team. And he asked me to always keep my smile when I play, as the enjoyment I have for playing the game is an inspiration to all of them, even though, they have played many, many tournaments.
"I hope to do just that here in Paris. After all, this is where I am supposed to be," he added.
New Zealand will face the United States, Wales and Argentina in pool B, while host nation France are aligned with England, Kenya and Spain in pool C.
French hope will lie solidly at the dancing feet of their electric Fiji-born wing Virimi Vakatawa.
Vakatawa makes his welcome return to the shortened game after appearing in the Six Nations for the nation's 15-a-side team before injury ruled him out of the Hong Kong sevens tournament.
France, however, will be without talisman Terry Bouhraoua and Pierre Gilles Lakafia, while featuring full international Julien Candelon in his swansong before retirement.
The wing and scrumhalf of the French sevens team has announced that the ninth stage of the World Rugby Sevens Series, in Paris, will be the last tournament of his career. A career which started in 1988.
On July 8 he will be 37-years-old, he has spent almost 30 years with an oval ball in his hands.
"I have given a lot of my life to rugby and it has been quite demanding. I am almost 37-years-old and I have sacrificed a lot over the past 15 years.
"I feel that in today’s rugby world I am lucky that I am able to choose how I end my career. I have always said that if the day comes that I start to make the spectators laugh, I’d have waited too long. So before that happens, I am bowing out gracefully,"
New Zealand touch down in Paris in the unusual position of having no tournament wins to their name this season.
A raft of injuries has seen All Black hopes repeatedly hit in the high-octane abbreviated game of rugby, but coach Scott Waldrom welcomes back experienced heads Joe Webber, Lewis Ormond and Sam Dickson for Paris.
The All Blacks Sevens are currently fourth in the standings.
"We are looking forward to upping our performance in the last two tournaments of the series," said Waldrom.
"While we are placed fourth overall, our aim is to improve that ranking, and as always, win the next two tournaments.
"Paris is an opportunity for the team to play with the determination and consistency we know we’re capable of. When we are on our game we have beaten the teams ahead of us in the series standings.
"This tournament is about putting together six consistent performances and playing at our peak every game as we're in a very tough pool again."
Turning to injuries, Waldrom was first to admit that it was something that affected not just his team.
"At this stage in the season a lot of teams are getting hit with injuries so it's something we have to accept and deal with," he said.
"The new players have brought some great enthusiasm to training this week and it has lifted everyone's performance so far."
(Kick-off is local time - GMT plus two hours)
Saturday, May 13
Fiji v Samoa (10.00)
Australia v Russia (10.22)
United States v Argentina (11.06)
South Africa v Scotland (11.28)
Canada v Japan (11.50)
Kenya v France (12.12)
England v Spain (12.34)
Fiji v Russia (13.26)
Australia v Samoa (13.48)
New Zealand v Argentina (14.10)
Unites States v Wales (14.32)
South Africa v Japan (14.54)
Canada v Scotland (15.16)
Kenya v Spain (15.38)
England v France (16.00)
Samoa v Russia (16.52)
Australia v Fiji (17.14)
Wales v Argentina (17.36)
United States v New Zealand (17.58)
Scotland v Japan (18.20)
Canada v South Africa (18.42)
France v Spain (19.04)
England v Kenya (19.26)