Preview: Sevens World Cup
Preview: Sevens World CupSHARE
New Zealand will be aiming to translate their world-beating form on the IRB World Series circuit into a title tilt at the World Cup Sevens in Moscow this weekend, with one eye on the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016.
The abbreviated sport of Sevens has received a massive boost after its inclusion as one of the new sports at the Rio Games, with newly-tapped Olympic funding increasing funding and player interest.
One of the reasons behind its inclusion is the unpredictability of the sport, with much closer competition between teams than in the 15-a-side game, albeit that the All Blacks have won 11 of the 14 IRB World Sevens Series titles.
Wales are the unlikely world Sevens champions, winning the last Cup in Dubai in 2009 at startling odds of 80-1 after the four favourites fell by the wayside in four dramatic, breath-taking quarterfinals.
"It's in the back of our minds," admitted Wales coach Paul John, who has just playmaker Lee Williams remaining from his squad four years ago.
"We're trying to treat this as just another tournament, but the title defence is an added incentive that the boys are aware of, and as a World Cup it's a special occasion anyway."
Inspirational captain DJ Forbes will be back for the All Blacks, as one of three players in Gordon Tietjens' squad that also appeared in Dubai, alongside veteran Fiji-born Tomasi Cama and Lote Raikabula.
"We really want to do well as we haven't won the Cup since 2001," said Tietjens.
"This is also the last World Cup before the Olympics, so Moscow is also going to be very valuable in terms of our planning to ensure we are in the best possible shape for Rio in 2016."
However, the Kiwis will not have it all their own way.
South Africa, captain by a fit-again Kyle Brown, will look to replicate the three tournament wins they scored on the World Series Circuit – the only team to win more than two and also win back-to-back events, with consistency and injuries in the early stages of their campaign costing them.
But having finished second behind New Zealand on the World Series table and having beaten the Kiwis in the Final of all three the tournaments the BlitzBokke won, the men in Green and Gold will be confident going into the Moscow event.
Brown is one of three survivors of the team that reached the quarterfinals of the 2009 tournament that was held in Dubai. The others are Ryno Benjamin and Philip Snyman.
Brown is determined for his side to improve on their last two showings, where South Africa only made the quarterfinals of the Cup competition.
"We have some exceptional talent, but synergy and finding our rhythm will be key to succeed," Brown said.
"All of us have tasted success on the circuit, but want to create a new legacy when it comes to the Melrose Cup."
Twenty-four teams will contest the title.
With the wider spaces available to players, all eyes will be on Carlin Isles when the United States run out on to the paddock to play Georgia on Friday.
Isles became an Internet sensation after scoring a raft of tries that showboated the speed that saw him ranked in the top 40 US 100-metres sprinters with a personal best time of 10.13 seconds.
"I stay humble and don't let it get to me," Isles said. "I try to keep it more about the team."
The Ohio native only switched to Rugby Union last year, with an eye on the Olympics, and the IRB can only rub their hands at the likes of the might of sporting powerhouses the United States and Russia fixing their sights on Sevens glory at the Rio Games.
Not only are the United States and the hosts playing alongside the traditional rugby powers, but there are the likes of Tunisia and the Philippines in the competition.
Previous winners of the World Cup Sevens:
2009 – Wales (at Dubai)
2005 – Fiji (Hong Kong)
2001 – New Zealand (Mar del Plata, Argentina)
1997 – Fiji (Hong Kong)
1993 – England (Edinburgh, Scotland)
Pool A: Australia, France, Spain, Tunisia
Pool B: South Africa, Scotland, Russia, Japan
Pool C: Samoa, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Philippines
Pool D: New Zealand, United States, Canada, Georgia
Pool E: Fiji, Wales, Tonga, Uruguay
Pool F: England, Argentina, Portugal, Hong Kong
(Kick-off is local – GMT plus four hours)
Friday, June 28:
Samoa v Zimbabwe, 15.00
Kenya v Philippines, 15.22
New Zealand v Canada, 15.44
United States v Georgia, 16.06
Fiji v Tonga, 16.28
Wales v Uruguay, 16.50
England v Portugal, 17.12
Argentina v Hong Kong, 17.34
Australia v Spain, 18.30
France v Tunisia, 18.52
South Africa v Russia, 19.14
Scotland v Japan, 19.36
Saturday, June 29.
Samoa v Philippines, 09.00
Kenya v Zimbabwe, 09.22
New Zealand v Georgia, 09.44
United States v Canada, 10.06
Fiji v Uruguay, 10.28
Wales v Tonga, 10.50
Argentina v Portugal, 11.12
England v Hong Kong, 11.34
Australia v Tunisia, 11.56
France v Spain, 12.18
South Africa v Japan, 12.40
Scotland v Russia, 13.02
Zimbabwe v Philippines, 13.24
Canada v Georgia, 13.46
Tonga v Uruguay, 14.08
Portugal v Hong Kong, 14.30
Spain v Tunisia, 14.52
Samoa v Kenya, 15.14
New Zealand v United States, 16.20
Fiji v Wales, 16.42
England v Argentina, 17.48
Australia v France, 18.10
South Africa v Scotland, 19.16
Russia v Japan, 19.38
AFP & IRB