Australia’s Cameron Clark is one of a host of stars taking part in this weekend’s Gold Coast Sevens.
Australia’s Cameron Clark is one of a host of stars taking part in this weekend’s Gold Coast Sevens. Francois Nel GETTY IMAGES

Olympics not focus as rugby sevens series kicks off

A SMORGASBORD of fast and furious rugby will be on show on the Gold Coast this weekend as some the world's best rugby sevens stars contest the opening round of the HSBC Sevens World Series with points on offer towards qualifying for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.

The likes of last season's Dream Team selection - Cam Clark of Australia, American Carlin Isles, regarded as the Usain Bolt of rugby, and yet another football Burgess, this one newly appointed England captain Phil, will be among a galaxy of stars kicking off the international series.

The series will go from the Gold Coast to Dubai, South Africa, New Zealand, the United States, Hong Kong, Japan, Scotland and finally end in London, England, next May.

Sixteen countries have been broken into four pools, with Australia landing in Pool C up against the high-flying Fijians, Scotland and Portugal.

Australia's first game will be against pool outsiders Portugal on Saturday.

The top four placed teams at the end of the Sevens World Series will have booked a spot at the Olympics in Brazil in two years.

But Australian coach Geraint John, who was formerly sevens coach of Canada for nine years before taking on the role here, has put a clamp on his players talking about the Olympics to prevent it being a distraction to the task of kicking off the opening round of the World Series with maximum points on home soil.

"You've got to be careful because everyone is talking about the Olympics," John said.

"Everyone is talking about qualification and everyone is talking about the pressure that is on this year's tournaments."

With the top two seeds from each pool advancing to Sunday's semi-finals, John said his players could not afford to take their eye off the ball for a moment, given the unpredictable nature of sevens rugby.

"Clearly the more success you have on the field the more points you gain," he said.

"And hopefully by the end of the year we will be in the top four.

"The time to start talking about that, though, is at the end of May. We're not there yet, as I keep telling people. Our focus has to be on what we can do on a day-to-day basis."

Rugby fans are in for a special treat if American Isles gets some clean air, with the former sprinter already showing some electrifying pace since switching to the sport.

He scored his first sevens try for the USA on the Gold Coast two years ago against New Zealand and last season notched 17 tries in the red white and blue.

Bookmakers have Australia at $15 to win the first leg of the series behind hot pots New Zealand who are at the skinny odds of $1.67.

South Africa ($5.50) and Fiji ($7), who are in Australia's pool, are the only other team under double figures.

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