Pool C: Isles back to boost USA
Madison Hughes returns to captain USA for the next two rounds in Wellington and Sydney, while Carlin Isles is fit again and ready to feature in the series for the first time in 10 months.
Madison Hughes regains the USA captain’s armband and Carlin Isles and Brett Thompson are back from injury as the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2016-17 moves to Oceania for the Wellington and Sydney Sevens.
Having had a busy year in both sevens and 15s, Hughes was rested for the Cape Town Sevens back in December with Perry Baker leading the side to a sixth-place finish in his absence.
The extra responsibility did not adversely affect Baker’s form, the speedster scoring five tries in South Africa to surpass Isles on the USA’s all-time try-scoring chart with a total of 86 touchdowns.
Though he led all Olympians in tries scored at Rio 2016, Isles has not made an appearance on the circuit since HSBC USA Sevens 10 months ago.
Initially missing the Canadian round of the 2015-16 series in an attempt to qualify as a track athlete at the 2016 Olympic Games, he aggravated an injury in Brazil that required ample recovery time.
Third behind Baker and Zack Test in tries scored for the USA Sevens Eagles, the fastest man in rugby will give coach Mike Friday another threat in attack in a dangerous Pool C that contains defending champions and hosts New Zealand, France and Samoa.
Thompson only just missed being ready for Rio after he had suffered a mid-season injury and was not available for the Dubai and Cape Town tournaments following a recovery setback. He will join Danny Barrett and Andrew Durutalo as experienced forwards in the team, having made his series debut during the 2012-13 season.
Folau Niua and Stephen Tomasin led the attack and took over the goal-kicking for the Eagles in Cape Town with Hughes away from the squad, while Matai Leuta found his series legs for the first time since the fourth round of the 2015-16 season.
The USA are currently eighth in the standings with 18 points.
USA squad: Carlin Isles, Matai Leuta, Danny Barrett, Brett Thompson, Don Pati, Andrew Durutalo, Folau Niua, Kevon Williams, Stephen Tomasin, Madison Hughes (captain), Perry Baker, Martin Iosefo.
TEENAGE ACE GETS FRANCE CALL-UP
Teenager Pierre-Louis Barassi (pictured) and Bastien Berenguel have been called into the France squad for the Wellington and Sydney Sevens.
Barassi, who is just 18 years of age, has been an ever-present for his club side Lyon in this season’s European Rugby Challenge Cup, while 23-year-old Berenguel plays 15s in Pro D2 with Stade Montois.
They come in for Anastase Leote, who was not considered due to injury, and Kelegh Moutome.
France won the Shield on their last visit to Wellington and will be looking for an improved showing as they look to climb the standings. Heading into the third round, France are in 10th place on 18 points.
Pool opponents New Zealand have won the last three Wellington tournaments and are on a 17-match winning run on home soil. Nevertheless, France defeated the All Blacks Sevens in their last meeting in Singapore in 2016 (24-0), ending 31 consecutive defeats against New Zealand.
The USA and Samoa are also in Pool C. France have posted as many victories as defeats in the last eight matches against each of these nations (four wins, four losses).
France squad: Jérémy Alcardi, Pierre-Louis Barassi, Jean-Paul Barraque, Bastien Berenguel, Terry Bouhraoua (captain), Julien Candelon, Manöel Dall Igna, Alexandre Gracbling, Vincent Inigo, Pierre-Gilles Lakafia, Jonathan Laugel, Jean-Baptiste Mazoue, Stephen Parez-Edo, Sacha Valleau.