Looking at the table, we have a three-way tie at the top. Fiji, New Zealand and South Africa all reside on 69 Series Points thru four stops on the HSBC Sevens Tour. The men in black have all the momentum (and hopefully not eight players again) after winning their home stop in Wellington as well as a heart-breaker over the Aussies in Sydney.
At the bottom, Portugal & Russia battle in the relegation zone with Wales six points ahead. So, let's take a look at the pools for Sin City. They may seem somewhat familiar in places!
POOL A: New Zealand, Russia, Portugal, Kenya
Seems simple really. NZ & Kenya move on, right?? Portugal has shown much better form of late & did draw with New Zealand last year, so it can happen if either of the top sides turn in a lazy effort. The Kiwis added Liam Messam to the roster as well as six others in a sea change from the team that won in Sydney. Don't fret though...experienced names like Mikkelson, Forbes, Kaka & Baker highlight a strong group. Meanwhile, the Kenyans have the most experienced side in terms of caps in the tourney. Could this be a difference maker for them in Rio?
POOL B: Japan, Australia, England and Scotland
This pool looks tricky. Japan were off form in Sydney but have shown real potential at times this year. Lomano Lemeki is one of the most solid sevens players around, Lote Tuqiri is a good vet to have and the likes of Fujita, Toyoshima & Soejima are rounding into form as offensive threats. Australia brings Quade Cooper into the side, one whose technical ability & precision can match them up with even the Olympic-loaded Kiwis. He may be a perfect fit for a side that hasn't had the blistering pace of the Blitzboks or the USA, using his line-breaking skills to open more lanes for experienced support runners.
However, England & Scotland know how to take care of the game as well. Dan Norton is back following a short paternity leave for England, needing nine tries for 200 all-time on tour. He's a crucial difference maker that opens up a ton of options for the other six men in white. And let's not forget Scotland beat England last time they played in the Bowl Final in Cape Town this season! They'd love to step up & crash the Cup quarterfinals by beating their rivals. It should be right there with US v Canada for pool match of the weekend!
POOL C: Fiji, Argentina, France and Samoa
Poor Argentina...they can't get rid of Fiji this season!! While the Pumas played it closer last time, they were no match for Fiji. But, an optimist would look at this as another opportunity to improve against the best before Rio. Meanwhile, France & Samoa are both capable of cracking the quarters. However, the French are without Virimi Vakatawa (France 15's) but play-maker Terry Bouhraoua is back! And Samoan Coach Damian McGrath noted his own side's lack of 7's caps on Twitter saying, "We're most inexperienced team by 31 caps & 266 caps off most experienced teams."
These same four squads got together in Sydney. Fiji went 3-0 while Argentina beat both France (17-7) & Samoa (14-12). Look for them to duplicate that in Vegas.
POOL D: South Africa, United States of America, Canada and Wales
The USA found themselves on top of the tour in London to end last year, but have been a step short so far against the top three sides. They drew against South Africa last year in Las Vegas. Can they go one point better in 2016? Perhaps not, as the Blitzboks have loaded up with speedster Bryan Habana & Ryan Kankowski of Sharks fame. Who wouldn't love to see S.A. put Seabelo Senatla & Habana on the field together? Captain Kyle Brown is back for South Africa as is Cecil Afrika!
Canada is looking forward to their home tourney in Vancouver but would love to wreck the Eagle party in Vegas by knocking them out of the quarterfinals in front of their home fans. While every player on Canada's roster has played 10+ events on tour, that hasn't prevented them from making lots of maddening mistakes this year. Meanwhile, Wales have been too far behind the Cup sides & far enough ahead of the relegation chase to put them in a nice rut. They lost 32-21 to Canada & 42-0 to the USA in Sydney. Perhaps the Bowl Quarters again for Wales?
New Zealand, South Africa, Fiji, Australia & Kenya seem like locks. England & the USA have tough matches but should get there as well. Argentina have the toughest road, I think. It must seem like "Groundhog Day" for them.
Check out these guess-timate predicted Quarter-Final games:
New Zealand vs USA (Full force of the crowd will be behind the Eagle upset bid & they have been quite competitive with New Zealand in the last year)
South Africa vs. Kenya (Remember, Kenya beat the Blitzboks in Cape Town this season)
Fiji vs. England (Edge - Fiji)
Australia vs. Argentina (Edge Australia)
In the final, I'll take South Africa to win it. With their roster coming back together after a slate of injuries & adding a world class piece like Habana, I think they'll be too tough this weekend on a fast, artificial (though narrow) surface at Sam Boyd Stadium.
While the Vegas 7's is happening, eight South American women's sides will be taking part in a demonstration tournament, a trial run for Rio 2016 planners. Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay & Venezuela will compete. Look for Brazil to win but Argentina would love a crack at Colombia to get revenge for the 12-7 loss in Santa Fe that sent Colombia to Rio. Also, Uruguay & Venezuela went 5-2 at the CONSUR Women's 7's in Santa Fe. This tourney will be an excellent opportunity to test themselves, so look for some closely contested matches! We'll be following this tourney on @Rugby_Global as well