Can Aussie Men reach another Vegas final?

by Jill Scanlon

Australia will be aiming to back up its fourth place finish in Sydney with another strong performance this weekend in Las Vegas, having added substantial experience to the line-up.

 The Aussies made the Cup Final last year but, despite leading at half time, eventually went down to Fiji by just six points, giving the reigning champions a back-to-back title win.

This year, no doubt, Fiji will be hoping to make it a record breaking treble.

The windy conditions blowing in off the desert tend to make outcomes a little unpredictable, so Day One could see some upsets.

Aside from South Africa, the first four rounds have seen no fewer than seven different teams finish in the top four placings.

So again the question begs - can any team unsettle the Blitzboks?

POOL A

South Africa, Wales, France, Canada

South Africa is riding the crest of a momentous wave with success so far in three of the four rounds with a second place on home soil in Cape Town.

Wales, however, will be looking to shake things up with a determination within its ranks to regain the form of the opening round and make 2017 a signature season.

 

To do this though, Wales will at least have to get past France and Canada.

The team from north of the US border has plenty of inspiration to perform well this weekend, with former captain and stalwart John Moonlight, due to celebrate an historic milestone when he runs out on the pitch at Sam Boyd Stadium.

 


POOL B

England, USA, Samoa, Chile

This pool could be considered perhaps the easiest of the four – especially if you play for England.

Samoa is still settling down under new coach Sir Gordon Tietjens and has not made a strong enough impression to convince many that it can finish in the top two of this group.

Having said that, the USA has also had a shaky start to the series but given it is a home tournament, the Eagles will want to put in a strong performance on the first day of competition in front of a traditionally vocal home crowd.

Speedster Carlin Isles has been ruled out of contention due to injury but coach Mike Friday has filled the hole well.

 

Chile is the invitational team from this region taking up the 16th place and will do well for the experience of playing at the elite level/

POOL C  

New Zealand, Argentina, Russia, Kenya

The biggest question mark in this pool is who will join the Kiwis in the Cup quarter-finals, such have been the performances to date of the other three teams here.

Argentina is showing the most promise with a fifth placing in Wellington and a loss to Fiji in the fifth-place semi-final in Sydney.

While New Zealand has had an inconsistent ride in the past three tournaments, with two third placings and a sixth, there is little chance it will not make it through the first two sessions of the pool round on day one in Las Vegas.


POOL D

Australia, Fiji, Japan, Scotland

The Aussies will find their pool opponents present a big challenge from the outset with Fiji, Japan and Scotland all capable of getting two pool wins on the board on Day One.

Australia has regained substantial experience with the inclusion of former captain Ed Jenkins and the long-awaited return of key playmakers Nick Malouf and Tom Lucas.

While the latter pair will be lacking significant match practice, their capabilities at this elite level will no doubt kick in quickly.

Scotland’s disappointing performance in Sydney last month – off the back of three strong rounds – means the lads in tartan will be out to prove the Round Four result was an anomaly and they will perhaps cause the biggest headache for both Australia and Fiji in the form of unpredictability.

Japan always puts in a good effort and had its best result of the series so far in Sydney playing in the Challenge Trophy semi-final. While never to be underestimated, it is unlikely to make the final eight from the pool round.

Fiji is the other big question mark this weekend.

While the final day performances of the dual world champions have been mixed so far this season, chalking up two second places and two fifth places, their ability to progress from the pool round is never really in doubt.

The Men’s matches kick off at 11.09am (AEDT) on Saturday with the first game of the day pitting Fiji against Japan.

Australia will play Scotland in its first pool match at 11.31am (AEDT).

FoxSports will not be broadcasting the first day of competition, but will be showing a highlights package at 10.30pm on Saturday.

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