HSBC Sevens Series: Las Vegas Sevens

Written by Darry Worthington for @Hollywoodbets. Follow them both on Twitter and Facebook now!

Las Vegas Sevens | Saturday 5 March – Monday 7 March | The Sam Boyd Stadium

Another fascinating installment of the HSBC Sevens World Series is in-store this week as the globe’s best sevens exponents descend upon the neon lights of Las Vegas. This week's tournament will see the mercurial Quade Cooper make his debut for the Australian Sevens side, while Bryan Habana and Ryan Kankowski are in line to feature for the Blitzbokke.

With a plethora of talent on display, this weekend's event promises to an absolute cracker.




To Win Tournament Outright
New Zealand 22/10 | Fiji 21/10 | South Africa 2/1 | USA 14/1

New Zealand 

Pool Opponents: Kenya, Portugal, and  Russia

While they’ve come in for a huge amount of criticism over the past two tournaments, due to referees arms seemingly always pointing in their favor, Gordon Tietjens and his charges won’t be the slightest bit concerned with the rugby fraternities condemnation. I mean at the end of the day it’s not as if they’ve pulled a Gulam Bodi and rigged a few matches; if the officiating is poor, it’s down to the refereeing standards set by the IRB rather than Tietjens influencing on the officials.

Anyway enough with the criticism, let’s move on to the actual preview. The Kiwi’s come into this one without two of their brightest stars. Youngsters Akira and Rieko Ioane have rejoined their Super Rugby franchise for the Blues 2016 campaign. Akira’s place in the squad could be taken by forward Liam Messam, although there are still doubts over the Waikato Chief’s fitness levels.

The New Zealanders have never won a Vegas Sevens tournament but with the likes of Sonny-Bill Williams, Liam Messam, and the usual Sevens stalwarts such as Kurt Baker, Dj Forbes, and Gillies Kaka all available for this weekend’s event, that may well have changed come the early hours of Monday morning.

Player To Watch: Sonny-Bill Williams
He’s now had three tournaments to get up to speed with the frantic nature of sevens rugby, so we should expect to see the big man at his best in Vegas. His slight of hand and powerful running will be key to New Zealand’s chances of winning their first ever tournament in the Nevada Desert.

Fiji
Pool Opponents: Argentina, Samoa, and France

The Fijians boast the most gifted squad on the circuit, but as is often the case with exceptionally talented players; they are a bit of temperamental bunch. Moments of indiscipline and subsequent yellow cards have cost this Fijian outfit dearly. Head coach Ben Ryan has tried to drum this irascible nature out of his squad but with little success.

Having impressed the Fijian mentor in the Coral Coast Sevens earlier this year, Josua Vici and Masivesi Dakuwaqa have both been elevated to the senior squad for the next two legs of the circuit. The duo are likely to inject some much-needed discipline into a side that has been culpable of letting the red mist descend over their eyes far too often.

The Fijians have done well at the Vegas event in the past and are current holders of the trophy. They will have to be on their best behavior however as any bit of ill-discipline could hamper them severely.

Player To Watch: Joshua Vici
The youngster is said to be a hardworking, disciplined player with a mean side step and gas to burn. He is highly rated by Ben Ryan and should be able to repay the faith shown in him by the Fijian mentor this weekend.

South Africa
Pool Opponents: Wales, Canada, and the United States

Pipped at the post by the hosts in Wellington, and once again done by a narrow points margin by the home side in Sydney. This has been the fate of the Blitzbokke since their Cape Town Sevens victory. Despite the agonizing defeats, Neil Powell and his charges should still feel satisfied with their showings on the circuit, especially when you consider that they have been missing a few of their stalwarts.

One man who has spent the majority of the embryonic stages of the 2016 circuit on the sidelines is Cecil Afrika. The Blitzboks’ playmaker has been back in training this week and if passed fit, will greatly enhance his side's chances of winning the Vegas leg. Afrika has been joined in training by two Springbok 15’s representatives in the form of Bryan Habana and Ryan Kankowski. Neither of the aforementioned duo are strangers to this format of the game, with Kankowski having made his mark in this format before shifting his attention to the 15’s code, while Habana made a few appearances for the Blitzbokke before becoming a staple in Jake Whites all-conquering Springbok side in the mid to late 2000’s.

If Afrika manages to come through the training camp unscathed and Habana and Kankowski prove they are ready for the shortened format of the game, then Neil Powell may have circumnavigated the selection dilemma he was facing due to Cheslin Kolbe and Juan de Jongh having returned to the Stormers for Super Rugby duty.

Player To Watch: Bryan Habana
It will be interesting to see how the flying winger goes if he does crack the nod for this weekend’s tournament. He may not be as fast as he was in his twenties but his experience and strength may see him become a key fixture for the Blitzboks this year.

United States
Pool Opponents: Wales, Canada, and South Africa

The hosts for this weekend tournament are coming off the back of a sub-par showing in Sydney which saw them handed a 24-7 humbling by the New Zealanders in the Cup quarter-finals. They were then beaten by Kenya which ensured they would end day two of the tournament winless.

The States may well fancy their chances of winning the Vegas leg of the World Series despite that mediocre performance in Sydney. Two of this year’s tournament legs have seen the host nation claim the Cup honors and while this States team may not be as star-studded as the likes of New Zealand, South Africa, and Australia, they do possess some quality players.

Zack Test and Carlin Isles have been magnificent for the USA on the circuit this year. Isles in particular, has shone.

Player To Watch: Carlin Isles
The former college American football and track star has adapted to the game of rugby brilliantly. His pace, power, and creative angles mean he’s an absolute handful for opposition defenders. If he gets going this week expect a partisan Vegas crowd to go into raptures.

Verdict: Fiji
I fancy the Fijians here. The New Zealanders and South Africans have lost a few of their players to Super Rugby commitments while the USA just don’t have enough depth to deal with any of their frontline players getting injured. Also, I would recommend putting a cheeky 5 rand on the USA to win their home tournament. Whilst I fully expect the Fijians to win this one, you can never discount a tournament host and with the odds at 14/1 the return is decent for such a small outlay.

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