The 16 international men’s teams taking part in this weekend’s HSBC New Zealand Sevens have officially announced their squads.
Taking place at the FMG Stadium in Hamilton on 25-26 January, the HSBC New Zealand Sevens is the third tournament in the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2020 following Dubai and Cape Town last month.
The hosts have made three changes to the squad that came from behind to defeat South Africa 7-5 in the HSBC Cape Town Sevens final last month. Both Etene Nanai-Seturo and Vilimoni Koroi, who made their world series debuts in Wellington in 2017, will make their first appearances on the 2020 series this weekend alongside Sione Molia who last featured in Dubai.
“We’ve been training hard the last couple of weeks and we’ve got a couple of new boys coming in this weekend who will hopefully lift the level again,” said co-captain Tim Mikkelson.
“For our assistant coach Tomasi Cama this will be his 100th tournament either playing or as a coach so that’s a special milestone that we want to respect and we’ll be doing everything this weekend for him.”
Drawn in Pool A, the All Blacks Sevens will face Scotland – who have named one debutant, Paddy Kelly, in an otherwise unchanged side – and Wales who have made three changes for Hamilton. Both Scottish and Welsh players – alongside England – will be vying for a spot in the Team GB Olympic squad which will form later this year when head coach Simon Amor will make his selection for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
Their final Pool A encounter will be against USA, whose captain Madison Hughes will become the fifth USA player to reach 50 events in a country where he made his world series debut in 2014. He will lead a squad that features Ben Pinkelman and Martin Iosefo, who were rested for Dubai and Cape Town after playing at Rugby World Cup 2019.
South Africa, who took the opening title of the 2020 season in Dubai, make seven changes from Cape Town due to injuries and players returning to Super Rugby. The new faces for this event include Stedman Gans, who is named as captain, and South Africa’s all-time leading point scorer Cecil Afrika.
“For us as a team this season has been good so far, we showed some good rugby in Dubai and Cape Town and I think that’s a good foundation for us to build on,” said Gans.
“Our preparation started early in January, so we have prepared well leading up to Hamilton and we are very excited.”
South Africa will play in Pool B alongside Kenya, England and invitational side Japan.
Following the announcement that Amor will join Eddie Jones’ Six Nations coaching set-up, former England player and assistant coach James Rodwell will take the reins as head coach for Hamilton, Sydney, Los Angeles and Vancouver.
Rodwell has made five changes to England’s squad for this weekend, including 18-year-old debutant Alfie Johnson and captain Tom Mitchell, who makes his long-awaited return from injury. Mitchell last played in Singapore 2019 with this weekend’s tournament marking his 60th series event.
Kenya have made three changes to their squad with their most-capped player Collins Injera, who last played in Paris 2018, poised to also play his 60th series event in Hamilton, while Japan have made eight with only Fisipuna Tuiaki, Chihito Matsui, Ryota Kano and Yoshikazu Fujita backing up from Cape Town.
Pool C features France, Ireland, Canada and Spain. France, who beat Fiji for the first time since Cape Town 2015 to win the bronze medal in the same city last month, have made one change to their side with their leading points scorer Terry Bouhraoua returning after missing out in South Africa.
2020 series newcomers Ireland make two changes, while Canada and Spain make two and four, respectively.
Defending series champions Fiji, who failed to reach the Cup quarter-finals in Dubai for the first time in HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series history, finishing ninth will be looking to reestablish their form in Hamilton this weekend where they have been victorious for the last two years.
Apenesia Cakaubalavu, who was called up as an injury replacement in Cape Town, Livai Ikanikoda and Asaeli Ratuvuaka are the three new players named by Gareth Baber for this weekend.
Elsewhere in Pool D, Lewis Holland needs one try to become Australia’s out-right all-time top try-scorer in series history in what will be his 50th series event. Head coach Tim Walsh has named six changes with newly-named captain Nick Malouf – who missed out on Cape Town due to injury – one of them.
The other Pool D contenders, Argentina and Samoa, have made three and four changes, respectively.
The action gets underway at the FMG Stadium at 11:57 local time (GMT+13) on Saturday when Ireland take on Canada.