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Sione Molia to lead New Zealand on landmark occasion
All the main squad talking points as the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2023 enters the final straight.
Sione Molia is set to appear in his 50th international tournament for the All Blacks Sevens as they chase their first Singapore title in 18 years.
Molia captains a squad showing two changes, one of them forced upon coach Clark Laidlaw due to Ngarohi McGarvey-Black not being available.
"Sione has been an outstanding sevens player for a few seasons now and had an outstanding 49th tournament last week. He is a real leader, one who leads by his actions and someone our young players really connect with. The team are very proud of him and excited to get back out there for his 50th," said Laidlaw.
Regan Ware and Moses Leo come into the squad and as well as McGarvey-Black, Xavier Harris misses out.
Ware, 28, has not featured for the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2023 leaders since injuring himself in the second minute of the agonising defeat to Argentina in the final of the Hamilton tournament in January.
That defeat and injury spoiled his 50th tournament in a black jersey and Molia will be hoping for better fortunes upon reaching his half-century.
Argentina, New Zealand’s nearest challengers in the standings, have only made one change to the squad that under-performed in Hong Kong.
Alejo Lavayen comes in for Agustin Fraga as Los Pumas Sevens try and keep the pressure on the All Blacks Sevens. Meanwhile, Gastón Revol is set to extend his all-time appearance record to 96 tournaments.
We're going to have a lot of fun this weekend 🥳 🇸🇬— World Rugby 7s (@WorldRugby7s) April 3, 2023
🎟 https://t.co/ASCLgdBC2M#Singapore7s | #HSBC7s pic.twitter.com/WAnWHMhEy3
50 up for Nacuqu
Beaten Hong Kong finalists Fiji go to Singapore sitting in third place in the standings and with a squad showing just one change of personnel from Hong Kong, where they secured their second silver medal of the 2023 Series.
Sevuloni Mocenacagi comes back in after missing the last three tournaments, while Singapore will be a special occasion for Waisea Nacuqu.
The 29-year-old will make his 50th tournament appearance on the Series – only Jerry Tuwai and Osea Kolinisau have played more for Fiji. Games against Pacific rivals Samoa, Spain and Canada await them in Pool B.
With France already assured of their place at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games as hosts, South Africa are currently in the fourth qualification spot.
The Blitzboks have had to chop and change their squad round by round due to injuries this year and that inconsistency of selection has been reflected in their topsy-turvy results.
Despite losing three key games by less than one score and fielding three debutants, South Africa performed better in Hong Kong and as a result of their sixth place, they climbed two spots in the standings to fifth.
However, the tournament came at a further cost on the injury front with another key man, Zain Davids, ruled out of this weekend’s event. Jaiden Baron replaces him for what will be his fourth Series tournament.
The HSBC Singapore Rugby Sevens’ most prolific finisher, Siviwe Soyizwapi, will once again lead from the front. Soyizwapi has scored 21 tries at the event’s history, four more than the USA’s Perry Baker and the now-retired Dan Norton of England.
A fiendishly difficult draw places the Blitzboks in Pool A with current leaders New Zealand and reigning Series champions, Australia, together with invitational side Hong Kong China.
With South Africa holding a slender two-point advantage over Australia in the overall Series standings, the teams could swap places depending on what happens when they meet in the first Pool A tie on day one.
“We’ve got a challenging pool and one that could probably define how the World Series looks at the end," said Australia captain Nick Malouf, who returned from injury to play in his 50th Series tournament in Hong Kong.
“It’s going to be a spicy encounter first up…there’s so much to play for and this could be the game you look back on, and think that’s when the season was decided, particularly for those qualification spots.”
The chasing pack
Australia are unchanged from Hong Kong despite finishing in a lowly 10th.
Samoa, just three points adrift of Australia in the standings in seventh, are still firmly in the mix for the fourth qualification place, as are the USA and Ireland.
Steve Onosai and BJ Lima are replaced by Levi Milford and Owen Niue in Samoa’s 13-man roster.
David Still is suspended and his place in the USA squad is taken by Naima Fuala’au. USA and France will be favourites to progress from Pool C but Uruguay and Kenya have what it takes to cause an upset as they battle for every point to try and avoid the relegation play-offs.
There is one change to the Ireland squad from last weekend’s action in Hong Kong, with Niall Comerford linking up with the travelling party in Singapore to replace the injured Jack Kelly.
On what is a crucial weekend for their Olympic aspirations, Ireland have been paired in Pool D alongside Argentina, Great Britain and Japan.
Great Britain go with the same squad that came within touching distance of a first-ever Cup final appearance in Hong Kong.
Meanwhile, Japan face an uphill battle to avoid relegation from the Series and Canada would have to do something remarkable in the final three tournaments to avoid the play-offs.
Canada captain Phil Berna turns 27 on the eve of the tournament and big points in Singapore would be the perfect way for him to celebrate.
But, realistically, it is any two from Spain, Uruguay and Kenya for the remaining relegation play-off places with the World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series 2023 winner making up the four-team, do-or-die tournament in London, on 20-21 May.
Like Australia and Great Britain, Canada, Uruguay and Kenya have named unchanged squads, but Spain have made a late adjustment to their squad with Juan Martinez replacing Asier Perez.