The HSBC New Zealand Sevens is the fourth round of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series with the first three tournaments all having different winners: South Africa (Dubai), New Zealand (Cape Town) and Australia (Sydney). South Africa currently leads the series by four points over New Zealand with Australia third.
There is added significant to the series this year with the Rugby World Cup Sevens under six months away in San Francisco. Teams will be battling it out not only for the HSBC New Zealand Sevens title but also crucial World Cup seedings points which will determine the all important draw for the World Cup Sevens.
Australia, who stunned South Africa in the final of the HSBC Sydney Sevens, has made three changes for Hamilton. Crucially inspirational captain Lewis Holland is out due to injury along with Boyd Killingworth, while Jesse Parahi has been rested.
In come Dylan Pietsch, Tom Lucas – who replaced Killingworth on day two in Sydney – and debutant Sam Croke.
"It's disappointing for Lewy, Boyd and Jesse to miss the Hamilton leg but it's also a great opportunity for some of our new inclusions to stake their claim," said coach Andy Friend.
"Tom (Lucas) is one of our leaders and has been in the programme for five years now. I have no doubt that he'll rise to the occasion and take on more play-making responsibility in the absence of Lewis.”
New Zealand coach Clark Laidlaw has made two changes from the team that finished in fifth place in Sydney with Joe Webber and Caleb Clarke in the playing 12, replacing Andrew Knewstubb, who has been ruled out with concussion, and Kurt Baker, who moves to 13th man.
A promising outing by Clarke in the final match against Fiji in Sydney sees him join fellow 18-year-old Etene Nanai-Seturo as two players to watch out for in Hamilton.
“We always said these two weeks were about giving younger players an opportunity even though they are two big tournaments,” said Laidlaw.
“This is the last tournament before we name the wider squad for Commonwealth Games so for Caleb and Etene to be in the 12 and get game time is important.”
The highly experienced Kyle Brown will take over the captaincy of South Africa in Hamilton with Philip Snyman headed home after injury along with Ruhan Nel.
Sikhumbuzo Notshe comes into the playing squad with two replacements, Zain Davids and Sevens veteran Branco du Preez, joining the tournament squad in place of Snyman and Ruhan Nel. A decision on Kwagga Smith, who rolled an ankle in training, will be made at the last minute.
Coach Neil Powell stated the importance of a good performance this weekend: “The senior players will have to make another step-up, given the misfortunes we had this week. We are happy with our log position (leading the series) as this is some indication that we are doing some things right, but we always strive for improvement, so this weekend will be another opportunity to do so.”
Canada, ravaged by injury in Sydney, have called in four replacements while Fiji have recalled Vatemo Ravouvou and Apenisa Cakaubalavu to the playing squad in place of Waisea Nacuqu and Kalione Nasoko.