Olympic qualification battle excites teams at start of men's rugby sevens season
The men's World Rugby Sevens Series starts with a bang in Dubai as teams begin their chase for Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games qualification.
A top four finish in the Series earns the teams tickets to Japan.
The Dubai 7s is the first stop this year for the men, while the women are in their second tournament of the year in Dubai. New Zealand's Black Ferns won their season opener in Glendale, Colorado, in October.
South Africa eye title defence
South Africa are looking to retain the Dubai title they won last year, as well as the overall series title.
The Rio 2016 bronze medallists are loaded with experience, that has coach Neil Powell excited for the start.
“We have a solid core of experienced players and I am expecting them to show that in Dubai, a really tough tournament as you have no idea what to expect from your opponents,” Powell told SA Rugby.
Powell is aware that with sevens, anything is possible.
He has his eyes on the other four teams that were crowned event winners in the 2017/18 season: Olympic champions Fiji, who they beat for the overall title last season; Australia; New Zealand; and USA.
New captain for Fiji
There's been a changing of the guard for Fiji.
The big Kalione Nasoko is in now in charge, replacing Rio 2016 gold medal winning captain Osea Kolinisau.
Fiji coach Gareth Baber has full faith in Nasoko to chase early points.
"I trust him and I believe we are in a good position this time. We realised on getting the points early in the series starting in Dubai and we don’t want to be chasing points,” Baber was quoted by the Fiji Sun.
New Zealand target a quick start
New Zealand have been pooled with USA, Spain, and Wales to kick off the season, and All Blacks captain Scott Curry is keen to get off to a perfect start.
“This year is about qualifying for the Olympics, it’s a massive year for all the teams," he said. "You can’t start slow on the World Series."
"To win a World Series is all about consistency, so to start here well will lead us off well to hopefully go and win."
Ones to watch
Keep an eye on Ben O’Donnell of Australia and the USA's Perry Baker this season.
Both men have the skills and pace to match.
O'Donnell was one the players nominated for the World Rugby Sevens player of the year award, while Baker is a two-time winner of that accolade.
Baker is an important member of the American squad, but was forced to miss the end of last season after picking up a shoulder injury at the Singapore 7s.
He is back fit and healed after rehabilitation and is looking to help his team 'play hard' with one goal in mind — the Olympics.
Men's World Rugby Sevens Series 2019
|Round 1||Dubai, UAE||30 November–1 December 2018|
|Round 2||Cape Town, South Africa||8–9 December 2018|
|Round 3||Hamilton, New Zealand||26–27 January 2019|
|Round 4||Sydney, Australia||2–3 February 2019|
|Round 5||Las Vegas, USA||1–3 March 2019|
|Round 6||Vancouver, Canada||9–10 March 2019|
|Round 7||Hong Kong||5–7 April 2019|
|Round 8||Singapore||13–14 April 2019|
|Round 9||London, England||25–26 May 2019|
|Round 10||Paris, France||1–2 June 2019|