The final squads have been announced for the HSBC London Sevens taking place at Twickenham Stadium on 25-26 May.
The HSBC London Sevens is the penultimate tournament in the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2019 with USA sitting top of the standings with 145 points.
Defending HSBC London Sevens champions Fiji trail USA by just three points and will be looking to replicate last year’s success at Twickenham this weekend.
Ranked third in the standings, New Zealand hold the record for the most HSBC London Sevens Cup titles with five and share the record with Fiji and fourth-placed South Africa for the most Cup finals played in London with seven.
After an emphatic Cup final victory in Singapore, South Africa will be looking to close the already-small gap on New Zealand with another podium finish this weekend.
There’s added incentive this season with the top four teams in the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series earning qualification for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and there’s a chance that fans could see four teams secure their spot at Twickenham.
Hosts England, who are currently ranked fifth, will be without their captain Tom Mitchell for their home tournament through injury. Taking over the captaincy is Phil Burgess, who will play his 50th series tournament on home soil.
England coach Simon Amor said: “Phil Burgess getting his 50th is pretty exciting and special. To do that this weekend in front of his friends and family will be so important to him and to all of us. It will be an amazing experience.”
Ahead of his home tournament, where England will face Ireland, Scotland and New Zealand, Burgess said: “Playing as England, in England, I think there will be a lot of people who will be targeting us anyway, so having those teams in our pool makes it even more interesting.
“We’re really looking forward to the challenge and that’s exactly what it is, so we’ll take that first game coming and go from there.”
Joining Burgess in the 50 club is Argentina’s Franco Sabato and USA’s Carlin Isles. Sabato will become the fourth Argentinian player to reach 50 appearances and Isles will be joined in the USA team by Perry Baker and Danny Barrett who both make their return from injury having not played since Hamilton and Hong Kong respectively.
USA are the most experienced squad in London and captain Madison Hughes is excited about the upcoming tournament: “We love coming here to London, it’s a fun tournament and we’ve had success here in the past.
“We’ve got a few guys coming back from injury which will definitely strengthen the squad and add something – Danny Barrett and Perry Baker are two of the best players on the circuit so it’s definitely good to have them coming back in.”
South Africa will also be celebrating a milestone this weekend with Branco du Preez becoming the most capped South African sevens player, surpassing Kyle Brown, in what will be his 70th HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series tournament.
After finishing sixth in Singapore, New Zealand’s squad will be bolstered with the addition of Vilimoni Koroi and Scott Gregory, who both make their return from injury having missed out since Vancouver.
With Olympic qualification at stake, New Zealand captain Scott Curry said: “I think Olympic qualification is on everyone’s minds, it’s pretty obvious that that’s what this series is all about.
“We’re still in third and we want to be a bit higher than that, so a couple of tournament wins in the next two weeks would be good for us.”
Elsewhere, there are a number of players making their HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series debuts this weekend. Invitational side Ireland – who recently secured core team status for next season’s HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series – have named four debutants in their 12-man squad, while Japan, Scotland and Spain have two players earning their first cap and England have one.
The action gets underway at Twickenham Stadium at 09:30 local time on Saturday with Australia taking on Wales in the first of the pool games.
Tickets for the HSBC London Sevens on May 25-26 are still available from £30 for adults and £10 for juniors. For more information and to book tickets, visit www.englandrugby.com/tickets