The men’s HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2023 will reach its halfway point during the HSBC Los Angeles Sevens this weekend.
Following five of 11 tournaments, New Zealand lead the standings on 85 points, nine points ahead of South Africa in second and 17 in front of Samoa and France in joint-third.
The All Blacks Sevens were victorious at Dignity Health Sports Park back in August, but they will not have it all their own way this time around.
Every match in LA will be streamed live on the Series website and World Rugby’s official YouTube channel. Ahead of what promises to be an enthralling two days of action, we pick out seven reasons why you should tune in.
SERIES LEADERS NEW ZEALAND OUT TO DEFEND TITLE
A run of two silver medals and one gold in their previous three tournaments has helped the All Blacks Sevens build a nine-point lead at the top of the standings.
Akuila Rokolisoa scored 49 points in LA six months ago and he has carried that form into the 2023 Series, leading the points-scoring charts with 215 and sitting third in the DHL Impact Player table.
Such has been the competitive nature of this season, though, that no men’s team has won more than one tournament in 2023. Can New Zealand buck that trend?
OLYMPIC QUALIFICATION POINTS UP FOR GRABS
Heading into the sixth tournament of 11 in the 2023 Series, the race to secure qualification for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games remains intense.
Fourth-placed France are assured of their place at the Games as hosts, but eight teams are battling it out for the four automatic tickets, with 10th-placed Great Britain doing all they can to remain in the conversation.
New Zealand and South Africa have given themselves a bit of a buffer at the top of the standings, but only 10 points separate Samoa in third and ninth-placed Ireland with six tournaments to play.
That means that every point counts at Dignity Health Sports Park this weekend as teams jostle for a place in the top four.
JAPAN SEARCH FOR POINTS
At the other end of the standings, Japan need positive results in LA as they bid to avoid relegation from the Series.
The core team with the fewest points at the end of 2023 will be relegated to the World Rugby Challenger Sevens Series 2024 and Japan have amassed only six from five tournaments so far.
Canada are the core team above them on 14 points, meaning Japan must find some form, starting this weekend.
HOME STARS AMONG PLAYERS TARGETING MILESTONES
The USA are targeting a first tournament win on home soil since Las Vegas in 2019, and two of their players have an extra incentive to do well in LA.
Perry Baker starts the tournament six short of becoming only the third player to score 250 Series tries. Team-mate Steve Tomasin needs 39 points to reach 1,000 on the circuit.
Argentina captain Gastón Revol (975) is also close to 1,000 career points but has not troubled the scorers yet this season. His long-time Los Pumas Sevens colleague German Schulz, meanwhile, is two matches from becoming the 32nd player to make 300 appearances in the Series.
Two current players – Argentina’s Luciano Gonzalez and New Zealand captain Sam Dickson – each need to cross the whitewash twice to bring up a century of Series tries.
CHILE READY TO TEST THEMSELVES
Having come close to securing core team status at the World Rugby Challenger Sevens Series 2022, losing to Georgia in the semi-finals before winning the bronze final, Chile get to test themselves on the biggest stage.
They have been given a tough assignment at Dignity Health Sports Park, drawn alongside New Zealand, Samoa and hosts USA in Pool A.
Chile will kick-off their LA campaign against the Series-leading All Blacks Sevens but can take heart from their last Series trip to the USA in 2019, when they drew with South Africa and beat France in Las Vegas.
Day one of the HSBC Los Angeles Sevens is packed full of exciting encounters. In Pool A, USA will hope to earn a first win against the All Blacks Sevens since 2019 in Las Vegas, while Samoa will be aiming for a place in the quarter-finals too.
Only a point separates Argentina and France in the standings, and the two teams will meet on the Dignity Health Sports Park pitch at 12:33 local time (GMT-8) on Saturday.
Australia and Fiji will have one eye on Olympic qualification when they duke it out at the end of day one, as will Ireland when they take on South Africa in Pool B at 19:03 local time.
LA 2028 PREVIEW
The HSBC Los Angeles Sevens has been a welcome addition to the Series since the circuit returned to Carson in 2020.
Fans heading to the Digital Health Sports Park this weekend will be treated to world-class action on the pitch and an International Food, Music and Drink Festival off it amid a colourful and creative atmosphere.
And the players, teams and fans will also get a sneak peak of what the Los Angeles 2028 Olympic Games could hold in store, with the stadium scheduled to host the men’s and women’s sevens tournaments in five years’ time.