New-look England looking to step it up at the Las Vegas leg of the Sevens World Series
Last Updated: 24/01/14 11:04am
The HSBC Sevens World Series has reached Round 4 and the 15 core nations, plus the regional qualifier Uruguay, reconvene at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas.
It's tight at the top - there have been three different winners in the first three tournaments and just ten points separate those top three sides.
New Zealand lead the way after taking out the Gold Coast event and reaching the final in Port Elizabeth although the Series champs will be without their hugely influential play-maker Tomasi Cama after he injured a calf muscle in training. Gordon Tietjens' team have not won in Las Vegas for four years.
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Just two points back on the standings are South Africa. The Blitzbokke, looking strong under the direction of new head coach Neil Powell, won an emotional final on home soil at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in December and will go for a third USA 7s title in four years this weekend.
Fiji, who took out their very first Dubai 7s title last November, occupy third place and are always dangerous. Fiji coach Ben Ryan has recalled former skipper Levani Botia but Osea Kolinisau retains the captaincy.
It's something of a fresh start for England 7s this weekend. Simon Amor has made his first big call since he was appointed Head Coach at the start of the season in naming Tom Mitchell as his new team captain.
The 24-year-old Mitchell, who won a Varsity Match with Oxford in 2011, takes over from Tom Powell who remains in the side.
Mitchell, who made his Series debut at the 2012 Wellington 7s, is currently the second-highest point-scorer on the HSBC Sevens World Series this season.
Mike Ellery returns to the side after missing the Port Elizabeth leg through injury and the experienced Chris Cracknell as well as Christian Lewis-Pratt also return into the England squad.
England currently sit fourth in the overall standings, 18 points behind New Zealand, and will want to close the gap before defending their Wellington 7s title in two weeks' time.
Wales Sevens will start a tournament without coach Paul John at the helm for the first time in six years. John has taken up a new role as attack coach with the Cardiff Blues but he leaves a strong legacy behind.
The 45-year-old coached Wales to World Cup glory in Dubai in 2009 and has been instrumental in bringing a number of players from the Sevens set-up through to full Wales XV's honours including Alex Cuthbert, Rhys Patchell and Justin Tipuric. His former assistant Gareth Williams takes over as head coach in Las Vegas. Williams will be no doubt be pleased to see the return of captain Adam Thomas from injury, although the experienced Lee Williams is unavailable.
2012 Vegas champions Samoa haven't hit their straps this Series and sit 7th on the overall standings. But the Pacific Islanders have picked a strong squad for the next two rounds.
New coach Patrick Faapale Vaipuna has once again selected Reupena Levasa as captain who will be supported ably by the experienced Lio Lolo and Alatasi Tupou. Watch out too for the dangerous Tom Iosefo and Tulolo Tulolo. Samoa are top seeds in Pool C which includes Portugal, Uruguay and England.
Canada look to be the best of the rest. Their physical approach is well-suited to the narrow pitch of the Sam Boyd stadium and they always get great support at their 'home' tournament. Coach Geraint John will, however, be unable to call upon the services of the injured Sean Duke and Nathan Hirayama.
The Vegas Sevens is Live from 8pm on Sky Sports 2 this Saturday night. Who's your money on?