Sevens World Cup preview
It's World Cup time on the Sevens circuit, with 24 teams out to emulate the surprise success achieved by Wales last time out, but it's hard to look past World Series winners New Zealand.
Consistency was the name of the game as the men in black claimed yet more overall success, and that will be what is required to do the business in Russia.
While the Sevens World Series allows teams the opportunity to make up for any errors in future rounds, a single slip up at the World Cup could prove costly - just ask New Zealand, South Africa, England and Fiji who all suffered shock defeats in the quarter-finals of the 2009 edition. While the likes of South Africa and England won individual rounds of the World Series, they also suffered a few poor loses which they can't afford this time out.
Pool A: Australia, France, Spain, Tunisia
In what is a strong squad on paper, Australia include three players who have lined up against the Lions in recent weeks. Waratahs pair Bernard Foley and Matt Lucas both return for Michael O'Connor's side alongside Queensland Reds flyer Luke Morahan. The trio join a squad also boosted by the return of forwards Ed Jenkins, Sean McMahon and Jesse Parahi and wing Shannon Walker. France hand a debut to Test full-back Jean-Marcellin Buttin in an otherwise settled squad. Tunisia have three of the eight players across the 24 teams set to contest a third Rugby World Cup Sevens, while all of Spain's players play in their first.
Pool B: South Africa, Scotland, Russia, Japan
Kyle Brown returns from injury to lead an impressive looking South African squad. Cheslin Kolbe and Seabelo Senatla have flown in from France after their World junior exploits and key men from the past return in Ryno Benjamin, Sampie Mastriet and Sibusiso Sithole. For the Scots, Colin Gregor and Andrew Turnbull line up in their third Sevens World Cup. Vasily Artemyev and Vladimir Ostroushko spearhead the hosts' charge and Shuetsu Narita and Lote Tuqiri are the danger men for Japan.
Pool C: Samoa, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Philippines
Manu Samoa head coach Stephen Betham is back in the Sevens fold as interim coach and with limited time to prepare he has drafted Uale Mai, Lolo Lui and Alafoti Faosiliva back into a powerful side that also includes Paul Perez and Ken Pisi. Kenya may miss the injured Dennis Ombachi but Andrew Amonde captains a squad featuring brothers Humphrey Kayange and Collins Injera as well as the recalled Lavin Asego. Skipper Jacques Leitao is one of six Zimbabwe players with World Cup experience, while the Philippines are taking part for the very first time.
Pool D: New Zealand, United States, Canada, Georgia
Captain DJ Forbes returns for New Zealand alongside aerial specialist Sam Dickson and powerful wings Bryce Heem, Waisake Naholo and David Raikuna. Forbes, Lote Raikabula and Tomasi Cama are the only players with prior World Cup experience. The USA and Canada both name settled looking sides, with Nathan Hirayama taking over the Canucks captaincy for the World Cup. Georgia go with four players who played four years ago in Dubai.
Pool E: Fiji, Wales, Tonga, Uruguay
Fijian boss Alifereti Dere has named his strongest squad of the season with Alipate Ratini returning for the first time since inspiring victory on the Gold Coast at the start of the season. Levani Botia captains a team also featuring the recalled Waisea Nayacalevu, Wotisoni Votu, Vereniki Goneva and Metuisela Talebula. Defending champions Wales have only one player, Lee Williiams, from that famous Cup win four years ago but Adam Thomas leads a strong team featuring fit-again flyers Alex Webber and Chris Knight. Saia Palei is Tonga's only player with World Cup experience while Uruguay have two in Juan Martin Llovet and Santiago Gibernau.
Pool F: England, Argentina, Portugal, Hong Kong
Rob Vickerman captains a settled England side boosted by the return to full fitness of Tom Mitchell. Dan Norton is the danger man out wide and Mark Odejobi makes the squad in the place of Sam Edgerley. 2009 runners-up Argentina have danger men Diego Palma and Matias Moroni in their team but Francisco Merello is the only man to have played four years ago in Dubai. Portugal's Pedro Leal and Hong Kong captain Rowan Varty are both set to play in their third Rugby World Cup Sevens tournament.
Five men players to watch:
Willie Ambaka - Kenya
Dubbed 'Kenya's Lomu', Ambaka was in the forwards when Mike Friday arrived as head coach and his decision to move the gentle giant into the centre and wing positions has proved inspired. His was the telling performance when Kenya reached the Cup final in Wellington beating New Zealand in the semis, and he was also a big factor in the other three semi-finals the Kenyans have reached this season. A massive breakthrough year for the young man who is just one part of a strong side featuring the likes of Oscar Ouma and brothers Humphrey Kayange and Collins Injera.
Vasily Artemyev - Russia
A full-time pro with Northampton Saints in England, Artemyev learnt his rugby in Ireland with Blackrock and Leinster as a teenager and as a result he speaks very good English with a faint Irish-Russian accent. His rugby is probably even better, though, and on his return to the side in Glasgow and London in the Series he was the stand-out player for the Russians. Powerful with the ball in hand and deceptively quick, he has plenty of experience and is a proven try-scorer.
Bernard Foley - Australia
Impressive as starting fly half recently for the Waratahs against the British and Irish Lions, Foley is one man Michael O'Connor was very keen to draft back into his squad for Moscow. Well versed in the nuances of Sevens, Foley should fit easily back in and his experience, alongside the likes of James Stannard and fit-again captain Ed Jenkins, will be a major plus in what is still a young side.
Tim Mikkelson - New Zealand
Mikkelson's outstanding consistency and overall qualities as a leading Sevens player epitomise New Zealand. A big wing in the fifteen-man game, he operates selflessly in the scrum in Sevens and led the team impeccably in DJ Forbes' injury-enforced absence for the climax of the World Series. A popular tourist, he has been a part of Gordon Tietjens' side for several years. Watch out for his workrate both on and off the ball. Another Kiwi to watch out for is young playmaker Gillies Kaka, whose impact has been remarkable in his first season.
Ryno Benjamin - South Africa
One of four '15s' players drafted back in by coach Paul Treu, Benjamin could be a match-winner for the Blitzbokke if he's fit and Sevens-sharp. The fact that Treu left out players like Ryan Kankowski and Stefan Basson - presumably not quite up to the pace of Sevens - but opted to bring back big wing Benjamin would suggest that he has impressed in training and that would be very good news for South African fans. A key man in South Africa's World Series-winning year in 2008/09, he will need to adapt back quickly to the culture of the team but should slot right back in.
With thanks to the IRB