Preview: Paris Sevens

World Rugby's 2016/17 Sevens Series rolls in to Paris this weekend with 16 teams competing in Round Nine of the 10-leg tournament.

Rugby World Cup Sevens qualification, the series title and relegation fights are all on the agenda this weekend.

The tournament kicks off at the Stade Jean Bouin in central Paris on Saturday with South Africa leading the standings, 25 points ahead of Fiji with England a further two points behind in third.

South Africa failed to reach the final for the first time this season in Singapore last month, but should they reach the Cup decider or lift the silverware in Paris then they would only need to take the field at Twickenham next weekend to secure a second series crown and first since 2009.

However, captain Philip Snyman insists his side are taking nothing for granted and are focused only on improving from the last round.

"We're really looking forward to the sevens in Paris this upcoming weekend. We had a nice break in Stellenbosch since Singapoore and we worked hard. We want to fix some mistakes this weekend," he said.

"The guys who are joining for Paris are looking really sharp. We have guys like Rosko Specman coming back in and the team is in good spirits."  

The Blitzboks will be helped by the return of try-scoring speedster Rosko Specman, who hasn't played since the sixth round in Vancouver. 

Virimi Vakatawa returns to the French fold this weekend as the powerful runner bolsters the host side, who will bid farewell to captain Julien Candelon as the 37-year-old bows out of rugby after the tournament in Paris.

New Zealand welcome debutants Jamie Booth and Fa’asiu Fuatai for the ninth round of the series, with head coach Scott Waldrom excited about the new faces joining his side, despite the long injury list. 

“The team has come together well over the last two weeks and we've had a solid build-up in Paris over recent days," said Waldrom. 

“With nine players unavailable due to injury we were presented with some selection challenges, but the team has come through and are looking forward to getting out on the field.

"Your first international sevens tournament is always exciting, so this weekend is a big moment for Jamie and Fa’asiu. They've prepared well and I’m sure will take the opportunity to stake a place in the sevens programme going forward."

Elsewhere, Wales captain Sam Cross leads the DHL Impact Player standings and is looking forward to getting out on the turf at Stade Jean Bouin.

"We've been pretty unfortunate a couple of times in Vancouver and Singapore where we've only won the Challenge Cup but we want to push on now and start making the Cup quarters," he said.

"We need to focus on the first two games of day one – we've had slow starts in the past and we've been chasing results."

Argentina can cement their Rugby World Cup Sevens 2018 place with a good finish in Paris, and captain Gaston Revol said new players will need to step up.

"We've been training a lot as we have five or six new guys and we need to welcome them into the team," he said.

"We will try to focus on our positions (on the field) this weekend – we have a really difficult pool with USA, New Zealand and Wales and they are all doing well."

The series title is not the only focal point in Paris, though, as four teams will be looking to cement their passage to Rugby World Cup Sevens 2018 in San Francisco.

Nine teams have already qualified, the quarter-finalists from RWC Sevens 2013 in Moscow – New Zealand, England, Fiji, Kenya, South Africa, Wales, Australia, and France – and USA as 2018 hosts.

Four teams can join them through the 2016/17 series as the best ranked outside those nine qualifiers with Canada, Argentina and Scotland able to confirm their qualification this weekend in Paris. 

The final spot from the series looks to be a race between defending Paris champions Samoa and Russia with the Pacific islanders nine points ahead of their rivals.

"I think RWC Sevens is a really special event for Canada, it being in the States and so close to us," said Nate Hirayama, who captained Canada to their first series Cup title in Singapore.

"I think San Fran will be a cool venue. Just getting that qualification done and sorted out will be great and then we can look forward to the actual tournament." 

Further down the series standings Japan, who finished fourth at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, are battling to avoid losing their status as a core team on the series as they lie nine points behind Russia with two rounds left.

Spain, who join the 15 core teams as the invitational team in Paris and London, will replace the relegated side next season after winning the 2017/18 series qualifier in Hong Kong last month.

Pools

Pool A: Canada, South Africa, Scotland, Japan
Pool B: USA, New Zealand, Wales, Argentina
Pool C: Kenya, France, Spain, Hong Kong
Pool D: Australia, Fiji, Samoa, Russia

Day One Fixtures
(Kick-off is local time – GMT two hours)

Fiji v Samoa (10:00)
Australia v Russia (10:22)
United States v Argentina (11:06)
South Africa v Scotland (11:28)
Canada v Japan (11:50)
Kenya v France (12:12)
England v Spain (12:34)
Fiji v Russia (13:26)
Australia v Samoa (13:48)
New Zealand v Argentina (14:10)
Unites States v Wales (14:32)
South Africa v Japan (14:54)
Canada v Scotland (15:16)
Kenya v Spain (15:38)
England v France (16:00)
Samoa v Russia (16:52)
Australia v Fiji (17:14)
Wales v Argentina (17:36)
United States v New Zealand (17:58)
Scotland v Japan (18:20)
Canada v South Africa (18:42)
France v Spain (19:04)
England v Kenya (19:26)

Overall Standings

1 South Africa – 157
2 Fiji – 132
3 England – 130
4 New Zealand – 110
5 USA – 101
6 Australia – 94
7 Canada – 76
8 Argentina – 72
9 Scotland – 68
10 Wales – 61
11 Kenya – 57
12 France – 51
13 Samoa – 36
14 Russia – 25
15 Japan – 16
16 Chile – 6
17 Uganda – 4
18 Papua New Guinea – 2
19 Hong Kong – 1
20 South Korea – 1

With thanks to World Rugby

Photo credit: World Rugby's official website

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