Preview: Vancouver Sevens
WORLD SERIES ROUND SIX: South Africa will look to cement their lead as the global circuit head into the second half of the season.
With a 10-point lead over second-placed New Zealand, the BlitzBoks are looking to win only their second tournament of the series.
It's all to play for as the 2018 series continues to be hugely competitive with five different winners: South Africa (Dubai), New Zealand (Cape Town), Australia (Sydney), Fiji (Hamilton) and United States (Las Vegas).
Getting points is also valuable in terms of World Cup Sevens seedings ahead of San Francisco in July.
Hosts Canada, who narrowly missed out on the Challenge Trophy to France in Las Vegas, will be hoping for a strong start in front of the home crowd and captain Harry Jones knows Australia will be strong first opponents at BC Place.
"It was a tough pool for us in Las Vegas and things didn't go as planned so this week we have been focused on making the week count and putting it right," Jones said.
"The boys are really excited about playing in front of a home crowd and for many of us, me included, this is our hometown so it makes it a special tournament. For kids to now be growing up and having that aspiration of playing rugby for Canada at BC Place is massive and huge for building grassroots rugby. We hope the crowd really get to enjoy this weekend's rugby.
"We have a pretty tough pool with United States, Australia and Uruguay who are all strong teams - the United States coming off the back of that big win in Las Vegas, Australia are always tough and have been going really well this year and Uruguay looked great last weekend. We know we've got three hard games but the boys are up for it and we are looking forward to getting out there."
Speaking at the Capilano Suspension Bridge for the launch of the Canada Sevens, South Africa captain Philip Snyman knows his side are eager to improve on their Las Vegas efforts, look to extend their series lead and start strong in Pool D alongside New Zealand, Scotland and Russia.
"Vancouver is definitely one of our favourite spots and we really enjoy playing here. Going into this weekend it's halfway through the series so for us it is a very important tournament in terms of trying to hold a lead at the top of the table. Last weekend in Las Vegas we lost against Argentina in the semi-final so we want to do better and need to be taking a step further, targeting the final here in Canada."
South African coach Neil Powell feels the biggest challenge to his team at this weekend's Canada Sevens will not be the opponents they face, but rather their own ability to play as a team.
The team's ability to play as a unit and for the younger players to adapt to the demands of the series will be crucial, the coach believes. More than half of the squad members have a combined total of tournament caps that less than that of Kyle Brown (63), the BlitzBoks' most experienced player. Powell does not mind that.
"The junior players are a week more experienced than last weekend in Las Vegas, so they have another opportunity to improve and contribute," said Powell.
"The reality is that if I had the likes of Rosko Specman and Werner Kok available, I would have played them. They are not here though and I need to play the youngsters, but I am pleased about that.
"They need to get time on the field to develop as players, and this weekend is a great opportunity not only for them, but for our system as well. We do need to create opportunities to broaden our base and this tournament provides us with that."
Powell wants results and effort to equal each other this weekend: "We always measure our own effort first, because if that is enough, positive results follow. I think we have prepared well enough, so the only thing left is for us to deliver a performance this weekend that we can be proud of."
New Zealand coach Clark Laidlaw has been forced into making changes from the team that finished in fifth place at last weekend's United States Sevens.
Luke Masirewa and Kurt Baker replace the injured Tim Mikkelson and Vilimoni Koroi, while Joe Webber has recovered from illness to join the 12; Sione Molia will be the 13th man.
Laidlaw said the loss of Mikkelson and Koroi is tough, but they are confident in the team selected.
"Tim is a mainstay of the team so playing without him is something no one wants but it gives guys a chance to step up, Dylan and Luke will have to play some big minutes so that's great for them," Laidlaw said.
"Losing a star playmaker like Vili gives Andrew and Ngarohi a chance to play in that position, so we see it as an exciting opportunity," said Laidlaw.
"It's been frustrating the last couple of tournaments because we haven't quite put a full game together. We tried to simplify things this week and create a really clear focus for the team so we are expecting a good performance this weekend.
"We've played all these teams recently. We played Russia in Sydney and needed to play well to beat them, Scotland have troubled us and we are clear how we want to play against them. South Africa is the form team and the strongest squad so that's a great challenge for us."
(Kick-off is local time - GMT minus eight hours)
Saturday, March 10
New Zealand v Scotland - 09.30
South Africa v Russia - 09.52
Kenya v France - 10.14
Fiji v Spain - 10.36
England v Wales - 10.58
Argentina v Samoa - 11.20
Australia v Canada - 11.42
United States v Uruguay - 12.04
New Zealand v Russia - 13.02
South Africa v Scotland - 13.24
Kenya v Spain - 13.46
Fiji v France - 14.08
England v Samoa - 14.30
Argentina v Wales - 14.52
Australia v Uruguay - 15.14
United States v Canada - 15.36
Scotland v Russia - 16.34
South Africa v New Zealand - 16.56
France v Spain - 17.18
Fiji v Kenya - 17.40
Wales v Samoa - 18.02
Argentina v England - 18.24
Canada v Uruguay - 18.46
United States v Australia - 19.08