The stakes could not be higher this weekend in Monaco: the prize is the 12th and final place on offer at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, joining host Brazil, Argentina, Australia, Great Britain, Fiji, France, Japan, Kenya, New Zealand, South Africa and the United States.

On paper, as champions at the recent Paris Sevens, Samoa should prevail but rugby sevens does not often obey the form guide and it would be a brave call to pencil their name into the Rio draw.

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The Samoans have got better and better throughout the season, culminating in that fine performance at the Stade Jean Bouin in May, but Canada and Russia have also played well on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series this season and the challenge will come from all corners.

"The players would like to play tomorrow if they could," Samoa head coach Damian McGrath told Radio New Zealand. "The whole year has led up to this week. The win in Paris was fantastic, we were emotionally and physically drained a little bit more than I anticipated in London, and then we had the whole drama of another week to get home."

After experiencing travel delays getting back from the climax of the world series, the Samoans only spent a few days at home before flying to Brisbane for a training camp en route to Europe. However, what seemed a disruption may have had a positive, galvanising effect.

"We had a fantastic week's training in Brisbane and everybody looked so sharp and to be able to welcome back Phoenix (Hunapo-Nofoa), who brings that x-factor and that little bit of magic is a big boost for us. It was tough because the players who ultimately missed out (Etiuefa Fiavaai and Telea Seumanutafa) deserved really to be there."

pool of death

Samoa will certainly need to do it the hard way in Monaco after the pool draw undeniably landed them in the 'pool of death' with three tough matches on day one against Tonga, Zimbabwe and unknown quantity Ireland.

Ireland have come all the way through from the bottom of European qualifying to arrive in Monaco.

"The attitude of the IRFU towards sevens is definitely changing," Ireland's Tom Daly told World Rugby TV. "This is the first time, this year, that they are putting a full focus on a men's sevens team and we've been full-time aiming towards the summer, so the attitude is definitely changing. 

"We've had a couple of training camps with Spain so we know how they play and we've won a few and lost a few against them, and then we're obviously looking at Canada, Samoa, Russia from the world series. They're going to be the big teams to keep an eye on mostly. 

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The other three pools will be just as keenly contested. Canada head Pool B and face matches against Germany, who impressed in Hong Kong this year, Sri Lanka and Uruguay. The Canucks squad is arguably coach Liam Middleton's strongest of the season. Ciaran Hearn returns for the first time in 2016, while Phil Mack and Nathan Hirayama are crucial to their chances alongside captain John Moonlight.

Russia performed well in holding onto their core team place on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series for 2016-17 and they head Pool C with matches against Chile, Morocco and Tunisia. The fourth seeds Hong Kong, also impressive on home soil earlier in the year, head Pool D and start on day one with matches against Spain, Mexico and South Korea.

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