Preview: 2013 Port Elizabeth Sevens SA7s
The All Blacks Sevens will arrive in South Africa clinging to the narrowest of leads in the 2013/2014 IRB Sevens World Series, with their impressive display in the opening round of the calendar in the Gold Coast already a distant memory.
A 0-44 loss tends to do that.
The defending Series champions were blown away by eventual Dubai winners Fiji, who celebrated their first major title in the Middle East in emphatic fashion with a performance that Sir Gordon Tietjens promptly labelled as one of the finest displays he had ever seen.
But that was last round, the Republic is a different beast and it wouldn’t be a stretch to say this tournament is the All Blacks Sevens home away from home.
New Zealand has won the last four titles, contested the last seven Cup finals and won seven crowns in South Africa.
The destination though means that this event will not be about the Sevens, not initially anyway.
The sad passing of Nelson Mandela means that this leg, the first major international rugby gathering since the Madiba passed, will be about reflection of quite possibly the single most influential figure in South Africa’s history.
There have been ceremonies planned accordingly.
The All Blacks Sevens open the tournament with a match against Portugal, followed by fixtures against the United States and Wales.
Fiji - Series ranking: 2nd (Champions in Dubai)
After their Cup-winning performance at the Emirates Dubai Rugby Sevens, Fiji have named an unchanged squad of 12 for the Cell C Nelson Mandela Bay SA Sevens, round three of the HSBC Sevens World Series.
Samisoni Viriviri was named Dubai's player of the tournament, while fans also voted Semi Kunatani as the #Sevensrookie of the tournament through interacting with the IRB's Twitter and Facebook pages.
One to watch: Giant forward Pio Tuwai has some of the best handling skills in rugby.
Scotland - Series ranking: 9th (Cup quarter-finalists in Dubai)
Scotland have called up 20-year-old back Mark Bennett, who was involved in the recent November internationals. He is an injury replacement for James Johnstone and is joined in Stephen Gemmell's squad by Fijian-born Joseva Nayacavou, who earned his first cap at the first round of the Series on Australia's Gold Coast and now replaces the injured forward Chris Dean.
Of the players currently still playing the sport, captain Colin Gregor is the second-highest point scorer all-time in Sevens with 974. He sits ninth in the all-time list and needs 26 points in PE to become the eighth man to reach 1,000 points.
One to watch: Lee Jones has pace and watch for Scott Riddell's workrate in the forward pack.
Australia - Series ranking: 5th (Bowl winners in Dubai)
On paper coach Michael O'Connor had one of his strongest squads in Dubai but the Australians struggled for consistency. They let a strong lead slip in their opening match against Scotland and failed to reach the Cup quarter finals. They recovered well on day two, going unbeaten on the second day en route to the Bowl.
An injury to Lewis Holland has forced O'Connor to make one change, Sam Myers coming in for his debut.
One to watch: Wallaby Luke Morahan has obvious x-factor, as does Shannon Walker, but O'Connor will be asking for a big shift up front from Sean McMahon, Jesse Parahi and Ed Jenkins.
France - Series ranking: 12th (Shield winners in Dubai)
Frederic Pomarel's experienced side suffered a disappointing weekend in Dubai, where they lost their first four matches before winning their last two to finish on a high as Shield winners.
Last year they reached the Cup final in Port Elizabeth, so will be looking for far more this weekend.
They make two changes to the Dubai squad, Vincent Inigo and Vincent Martin replaced by Stephen Parez and Steeve Barry, who were involved in the invitational tournament in Dubai. Inigo had been due to miss the tournament, but is a late replacement for Julien Saubade.
One to watch: Still no Terry Bourahoua but Julien Candelon continues to defy his age with timeless performances and Paul Albaladejo is a playmaker out of the top drawer.
South Africa - Series ranking: 3rd (Cup runners-up in Dubai)
Springbok Sevens head coach Neil Powell has called Steven Hunt and Kwagga Smith into his squad in Port Elizabeth to replace the injured Stephan Dippenaar and Jamba Ulengo.
Dippenaar was ruled out of action with a hamstring injury in Dubai, while Ulengo (foot) also misses their home Cell C Nelson Mandela Bay SA Sevens.
Franke Horne (leg) passed a late fitness test to make Powell's squad, as they look to build on their Cup final appearance and win a first-ever home tournament on the Series.
Hunt and Smith were all in action in Dubai where they helped the SA Sevens Academy team defend their Dubai Invitational title for a fourth successive time.
One to watch: Cecil Afrika is still a menance but increasingly SA work off Branco du Preez and Justin Geduld
Kenya - Series ranking: 6th (Cup quarter-finalists in Dubai)
Former Springbok Sevens coach Paul Treu has also been forced to make changes to his Kenya side.
Philip Wamae and Michael Wanjala are unavailable due to injury, while Patrice Agunda must sit exams and their places in the Kenya team are taken by Davis Chenge, Billy Odhiambo and Dan Sikuta.
Experienced flyer Collins Injera led from the front with a strong performance in Dubai, making the fans' Dream Team. He now sits fourth on the all-time Series try-scoring list, with 165.
One to watch: Captain Andrew Amonde leads magnificently and will be pleased to welcome back Billy Odhiambo as a foil for Collins Injera.
Canada - Series ranking: 11th (Bowl semi-finalists in Dubai)
Canada took the eventual Cup champions Fiji to the wire in their pool clash in Dubai and also had scrum-half Phil Mack in the fans' Dream Team.
Ahead of the Port Elizabeth tournament coach Geraint John has been forced into two changes through injury, Pat Kay and debutant Duncan Maguire coming in to replace Connor Braid and Lucas Hammond.
One to watch: Even after all these years playmaker Phil Mack is still Canada's heartbeat. Captain John Moonlight is part of a strong forward pack.
Spain - Series ranking: 15th (Shield runners-up in Dubai)
Coach Jesus Delgado names an unchanged squad from the 12 that competed in Dubai, featuring the recall of some of the country's best players in Pablo Feijoo, Ignacio Martin and Jaike Carter.
He will be looking for more from his players, though, who currently occupy that automatic relegation place, ranked 15th of the current core teams.
One to watch: Big wing Ignacio Martin is a great player to have back in the side.
New Zealand - Series ranking: 1st (3rd in Dubai)
New Zealand coach Gordon Tietjens names an unchanged squad from the 12 that finished third in Dubai, recovering from a heaviest ever Sevens defeat, 44-0 at the hands of Fiji in the Cup semi, to beat England in the 3rd/4th play-off.
Tietjens' squad - now comprising full-time Sevens athletes - is the most experienced in the tournament with 293 events between them, although four players - captain DJ Forbes, Lote Raikabula, Tim Mikkelson and Tomasi Cama - account for 218 of those 'caps'.
One to watch: The list is long with New Zealand. Gillies Kaka was relatively quiet on return from injury in Dubai so expect fireworks from him and fellow stepper Joe Webber.
Wales - Series ranking: 6th (Plate runners-up in Dubai)
With only eight players fit to contest the Plate final against Argentina in Dubai, Wales were down to their bare bones but now start again with a full compliment of 12 after flying in two replacements.
Captain Adam Thomas and Adam Field are unable to compete in PE, replaced by debutant Rhodri Davies and Will Price, who comes in for his 10th World Series tournament.
One to watch: Loose forward James Davies has proved his fitness following an outstanding performance in Dubai that saw him named in the 'Dream Team'.
Portugal - Series ranking: 13th (Bowl runners-up in Dubai)
Coach Pedro Netto Fernandes makes one change to the side that lost 17-12 to Australia in the Dubai Bowl final, just a week after many of the players had been involved in test match rugby in Lisbon against Canada.
Frederico Oliveira picked up a leg injury during the Dubai tournament and is replaced by debutant Rafael Simoes.
One to watch: Little captain Pedro 'popcorn' Leal and also veteran back David Mateus.
USA - Series ranking: 14th (Shield semi-finalists in Dubai)
USA Sevens head coach Matt Hawkins will be asking more of the same 12 players who finished with five losses in Dubai.
Captain Nick Edwards currently sits five tries short of 50 with 45 to his name.
One to watch: Zack Test has been the USA's outstanding player now for a few seasons.
England - Series ranking: 4th (4th in Dubai)
England have been forced into a late change in Port Elizabeth, one of their key men in Dubai last week, Mike Ellery, forced to withdraw through injury and replaced by John Brake, who was in action in the Dubai invitational tournament and had travelled to South Africa as a precaution.
One to watch: With Ellery out injured Dan Norton is sure to play more of a part than he did in Dubai. Marcus Watson is also a key man in both attack and scrambling defence.
Argentina - Series ranking: 8th (Plate winners in Dubai)
Like England, Argentina's squad is unchanged from Dubai where they put in a much stronger performance for coach, Santiago Gomez Cora.
Will be looking to emulate the kind of form that took them to the Cup semis here last year.
One to watch: Diego Palma gives them lots of pace and Axel Muller is an interesting athlete, having come from American football and represented Argentina as a decathlete.
Samoa - Series ranking: 9th (Bowl semi-finalists in Dubai)
Viliamu Punivalu was disappointed with his side's performance in Dubai, where their Cup defence faltered on day one with losses to South Africa and Argentina.
He makes one change to the team for Port Elizabeth, the injured Misioka Timoteo replaced by debutant, Fomai Ah Ki.
One to watch: Lio Lolo is a strong player for Samoa, while captain Reupena Levasa and Alatasi Tupou are crucial to this new side.
Zimbabwe - Series ranking: N/A (Did not compete in Dubai)
Liam Middleton is back with the Zimbabwe team after a stint coaching in England but long-time manager Bruce Hobson will be missed as he steps away from the side after over a decade of service, as well former captain Jacques Leitao and Wesley Mbanje, who have also stepped down.
One to watch: The Cheetahs name a squad with five debutants as they undergo a period of change but still have dangerous pacemen in the likes of Gardener Nechironga and Tafadzwa Chitokwindo.