Sport: Strongest ever field set for Oceania Sevens Championship
Noosa hosts the Oceania Sevens Championship this weekend, with extra World Series berths up for grabs as well as major incentives ahead of the Rio Olympics.
The Oceania Sevens Championship kicks off on Australia's Sunshine Coast on Friday in the final hit-out for teams before the start of the new IRB World Series.
A record number of teams will contest both the men's and women's draws as the sport's Olympic debut edges closer.
Places at next year's Wellington and Hong Kong tournaments are also up for grabs.
Vinnie Wylie reports.
World Series champions New Zealand are taking part in the Oceania event for the first time and join Fiji, defending champions Samoa and hosts Australia as the major drawcards. All four are permanent members on the world circuit and, along with American Samoa, are using the Noosa tournament to prepare for the main event on the Gold Coast next weekend. Fiji coach Ben Ryan has gone as far as selecting separate teams.
BEN RYAN: The overriding reason really is that I wasn't prepared to take the risk of injury or fatigue in Oceania with the Gold Coast team. [The] boys haven't been short of rugby - they've been playing all the way through the summer. I'm disappointed that Oceania tournament was the week before and not two or three weeks before to enable some really key preparation but some teams will put their main sides in but that's not we're going to do. We will give a chance to the boys that are in the next group to play against these big teams and hopefully knock one or two of them over and make things difficult for me for Dubai.
For teams that aren't World Series regulars, there are berths at the Wellington and Hong Kong rounds on offer. The top performing non-core men's team will qualify for both, with a further place also available for Hong Kong. Tonga coach Andrew Katoa has only been in the job two weeks and acknowledges there's a lot riding on their performances over the next two days.
ANDREW KATOA: That's a lot of pressure to put on kids that are 18/19 so we just try to set our goals on this weekend and work real hard towards that first day because if we can get through the first day that's what we are looking at and just trying to be realistic. Our goal right now is to get through that first day and hope for the best in that first day.
Another incentive to qualify for the World Series is changes to international eligibility laws. The IRB says a player can switch to a second country provided they have the correct passport and have not been capped by another team for 18 months. Just one appearance during the upcoming World Series would qualify a player to compete for their new nation in Brazil. The Cook Islands coach Chad Tuoro is keen to capitalise.
CHAD TUORO: And that's why it's so critical this weekend to get at least one of those tournaments for us to participate in next year. We can then call on some other players around the world to hopefully be part of it and capture them, and then we will have our Oceania Olympic qualifier in New Zealand next year, rumoured to be around November.
Meanwhile seven countries will contest the Oceania Women's Championship. Defending champions Fiji, will be joined by New Zealand and Australia, who shared all five Women's World Series titles between them in 2013, as well as Samoa, Papua New Guinea, the Cook Islands and Tonga.
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