USA Sevens: Key clashes
Even before the Hertz Sevens in Wellington was over, the draw had been made for the USA Sevens on 8-10 February, guaranteeing another set of pool matches that should have the Las Vegas crowd taking their seats from match one.
England and Fiji kick off this year's Vegas showpiece and, owing to the exciting three-day format at the USA Sevens, each of the teams will play two of their pool matches on Friday 8 February. They will then round off the pool stages and play a first knock-out tie on day two, Saturday 9 February, before the Cup and other three trophies are decided on Sunday.
Once again, across the board the draw and the resulting pools have thrown up some fascinating matches.
Pool A - ENG, SCO, FIJ, POR - PROFILES (pdf) >>
The pick of Pool A has to be the opening game of the entire tournament between last week's Cup winners England and Gold Coast champions Fiji, seeded in the third tier in the States after failing to reach the Cup quarter finals in Wellington. It will be fascinating to see whether the Fijians can bounce back straight away with the likes of captain Setefano Cakau, Joji Raqamate and Ilai Tinai, or whether England's new-found confidence can reignite through the likes of Mat Turner and Dan Norton and some of the unsung heroes last weekend such as Jeff Williams, John Brake and Tom Powell.
Scotland's battles against Fiji and England will also have edge to them. The Scots have won their last two matches against the Fijians, in the pool stages in both Port Elizabeth and Wellington, but they lost to England last weekend in the Cup quarters.
Pool B - KEN, RSA, CAN, URU - PROFILES (pdf) >>
Kenya are the form side in Pool B, having shocked Wellington hosts New Zealand in the Cup semi-finals last weekend, and then come so close to beating England in the final. They also overcame African rivals South Africa in the Cup quarters, adding extra bite to their pool encounter on day two. Before that the South Africans line up against Uruguay and then Canada, who also beat them in Wellington.
Canada's match against Kenya will also be key. The last time the two sides met was the Dubai Cup quarter finals, when the Kenyans won 19-7.
Pool C - NZL, ARG, FRA, WAL - PROFILES (pdf) >>
France started the Wellington weekend ranked second in the World Series and, while they dipped from their usual high standards this season, they will relish their opener here against New Zealand.
Not since 2005 have they beaten the kiwis, on that occasion en route to their sole IRB Sevens Cup title in Paris. But with New Zealand under pressure to perform and missing their skipper DJ Forbes and key try-poacher Kurt Baker through injury, it's a good time to get them first up. Should be a fascinating battle between veteran wing Julien Candelon and NZ's youngest newcomer, Gillies Kaka.
Argentina beat France last weekend to reach the Cup quarters, so their match will have some spice to it, but first the Pumas will come up against another tough opponent in Wales. This is a tough pool, from which any two could genuinely proceed to the Cup.
Pool D - SAM, AUS, ESP, USA - PROFILES (pdf) >>
Hosts USA will count on their home support at the Sam Boyd Stadium, but there may well be just as many fans on hand for defending Vegas champions, Samoa, who always pull in the crowds here. The two sides play in the final match of day one, which should be an absolute cracker, if the US get off to a good start against Australia. That in itself is not guaranteed with the Aussies one of the sides to have really impressed last weekend, winning five of their six matches and only losing against New Zealand in the Cup quarters.
With every Series point now crucial in the lead-up to the promotion / relegation showdown in London, nobody will take anything for granted in this pool. Spain and USA currently lie 14th-equal in the standings with 18 points apiece and both will be desperate to claw themselves out of that danger zone where they are currently flirting with that relegation battle at round nine in London.
USA Sevens tickets still available!
Tickets for the 2013 USA Sevens start at $10 for youth (age 14 and younger) and $33 for adults. For more details and to purchase tickets, visit www.usasevens.com or call 1-888-RUGBY-7S.