Preview: Las Vegas Sevens
Preview: Las Vegas SevensSHARE
The South Africans will be looking to bounce back to winning ways after coming unstuck in their last two knock-out matches at the Sydney Sevens in Australia, where they finished in fourth place despite injuries to several squad members.
Las Vegas has been a happy hunting ground for the Springbok Sevens recently, with the team winning the USA title no fewer than three times in the past five years.
However, for this edition, the Springbok Sevens find themselves in a tough pool consisting of hosts, USA, the strong and physical Canada and tenacious Wales. The first two teams in the pool qualify for the Cup quarterfinals after the teams have played three round-robin matches.
South Africa currently share a three-way tie at top of the World Rugby Sevens Series standings with Fiji and New Zealand, all of whom are on 69 points after four tournaments.
New Zealand were drawn in Pool A with Kenya, Portugal and Russia, while Fiji will have Argentina, Samoa and France standing in their way in Pool C. Pool B sees Australia, England, Scotland and Japan face-off against each other.
For their Las Vegas mission, the South Africans have been boosted by the return of several fit-again stalwarts. Skipper Kyle Brown, record SA points' scorer Cecil Afrika, Branco du Preez and Justin Geduld have all recovered from their respective niggles and are set to return to action at the popular USA event.
Du Preez last played for the Springboks Sevens at the London Sevens in May last year, while Brown and Africa last saw action in Cape Town in December.
Springbok World Cup winner Bryan Habana and Bok teammate Ryan Kankowski are also part of a 13-man squad for the two North American tournaments. The inaugural Vancouver Sevens takes place next weekend, on 13 and 14 March.
Apart from the strong North American threat in the pool stages, Neil Powell, the Springbok Sevens coach, added that attention to discipline will be a key focus area for them in Las Vegas.
"Intensity and discipline are two of the areas that we basically had a look at and said it is important, especially in the knock-out stages. It cost us some tournaments and some games in the past," said Powell.
"Our focus going into the knock-out stages is be to be more disciplined and trying not to give away cards in the knock-out stages, because it will cost you.”
Returning skipper Brown, who was last in action at the Cape Town Sevens, said it was a wonderful feeling to be back in the mix.
"A couple of weeks ago the guys were in Wellington and Sydney and they played some unbelievable rugby," said Brown. "It's such a privilege to be part of this team again and hopefully we will be able to maintain the momentum here in Vegas.
"The USA will be bursting with pride playing at home in front of their own fans. They always make it something special when they play here, with fighter jets flying over and then adding the emotion of their anthem. As a player, it's nice to be part of such a fixture and you know that as a team you will have to be incredibly strong and focussed," explained Brown.
Meanwhile, Canada's Phil Mack will make history in Las Vegas.
He will become just the 29th player to record 50 Sevens Series appearances, and the first in Canadian history, when he steps on the field next Friday.
"Phil is synonymous with the Canada sevens team both through the number of tournaments he has played in and also through the quality of his performances over the years," head coach Liam Middleton said. "A genuine world class Sevens player, he has contributed enormously to the team over a long period of time. It's a significant and well deserved milestone for him."
Mack made his Sevens Series debut in Hong Kong more than a decade ago in 2005. The 30-year-old has also registered 956 career points and is looking to become just the 13th player in series history to score more than 1 000 points.
In addition to Mack, Admir Cejvanovic, Mike Fuailefau, Lucas Hammond, Nathan Hirayama, Harry Jones, Pat Kay, John Moonlight, Sean White and Adam Zaruba keep their spots from the Sydney Sevens.
Sean Duke has recovered from injury to be selected for Las Vegas as have Conor Trainor and Justin Douglas.
"Sean was a top performer for us Dubai and South Africa and it's good to have him back in our squad," Middleton said. "Conor and Justin bring good pace to our team and they are looking forward to contributing to the teams success in the next few weeks."
Canada rolls into Las Vegas after a season best performance in Australia where they claimed the Bowl title after wins over Wales, Scotland and Samoa. Canada is currently 12th in the season standings. Hirayama was pivotal in Canada's success in Sydney as the Richmond native led the tournament in points (55) and tries (seven). Hirayama is second in points scored this season with 145.
Canada has been drawn into Pool D and have yet to face the USA or South Africa this season. Canada is 20-16 against their rivals south of the border and is 5-32 against South Africa. Canada has faced Wales twice this season, going 1-1, and are 13-23-1 all-time.
"Every pool draw throws up three hard matches where you have to be at your very best to get a good result and that will be no different in Las Vegas," Middleton said. "We haven't played South Africa or USA in this World Series so we are looking forward to matching up with them. We've have played Wales twice and both have been hard fought matches so our expectation will be the same in Vegas."
Pool A: New Zealand, Kenya, Portugal, Russia
Pool B: Australia, England, Scotland, Japan
Pool C: Fiji, Argentina, Samoa, France
Pool D: South Africa, USA, Canada, Wales
Schedule – Friday, March 4
(Kick-off is local time – GMT minus eight hours)
New Zealand v Portugal – 15.51
Kenya v Russia – 16.13
South Africa v Canada – 16.35
USA v Wales – 16.57
Fiji v Samoa – 17.19
Argentina v France – 17.41
Australia v Scotland – 18.08
England v Japan – 18.30
New Zealand v Russia – 18-52
Kenya v Portugal – 19.14
USA v Canada – 19.36
South Africa v Wales – 19.58
Fiji v France – 20.20
Argentina v Samoa – 20.42
Australia v Japan – 21.04
England v Scotland – 21.26
Saturday, March 5
Portugal v Russia – 11.32
New Zealand v Kenya – 11.54
Samoa v France – 12.16
Fiji v Argentina – 12.38
Scotland v Japan – 13.24
Australia v England – 13.46
Canada v Wales – 14.08
South Africa v United States – 14.35