The All Blacks Sevens team are in Paris, ready for the penultimate event in the World Series as they keep one eye on the Rio Olympics.
Kurt Baker has been named skipper with Tim Mikkelson, Scott Curry and DJ Forbes out injured.
There was lots of kerfuffle regarding Ardie Savea's decision to pull out of Olympic contention. Looking at this squad though and there shouldn't be any dramas about Savea's decision as it's a fine group of Sevens players, plus Liam Messam won't take part thanks to injury.
12 players have been named, with Messam, Forbes, Curry and Mikkelson not included, plus Sam Dickson hasn't traveled with the squad to Europe as he's also injured. For Rio, coach Gordon Tietjens will need to name a squad of 12 so given that there's already five high-calibre Sevens troopers not in this squad, I think Tietjens has enough headaches without even pondering Savea.
In Paris we will see the Ioane brother pull on the Sevens jersey once again which is hugely exciting. Both have been battling away in Super Rugby instead of being with the Sevens squad, yet both have obvious talent that should see them selected for the Olympics. This is just another opportunity for them to stamp their mark on the Sevens world, perhaps fire a few warning shots as a reminder of what the kiwis can do.
I reckon that this will be a crucial tournament for Sonny Bill Williams though. Without Curry, Forbes or Messam, SBW is suddenly one of the more experienced forwards in this team and he'll need to carry some of the work-rate burden. Plus he'll be called on to carry, draw defenders in and pop an offload out.
Basically, SBW could be asked to do a lot in Paris, stepping into a crucial role for the kiwi team.
You've got to back SBW as there's not too many other athletes who are as dedicated to perfecting their craft as SBW and he's been given plenty of time, this is where we'll start to see SBW as a true-blue Sevens player.
This could also impact how Akira Ioane is used as we've kinda got used to him hanging out on the wing, but with a lack of physical forwards he could slide into the pack. Rieko obviously goes alright on the flank.
With the Olympics in mind, the likes of Pita Ahki, Dylan Collier, Teddy Stanaway, Lewis Ormond and Sione Molia will be keen to put their best foot forward. These players are on the fringe and will be the most likely to make way for the injured lads, the best case for Tietjens will be that these players make his selection conundrum even harder by playing the house down in Paris.
Augustine Pulu could also be considered on the fringes as he's returning from a fractured arm and has gotta show that he deserves Olympic selection ahead of others. Pulu has two tournaments to do so and his influence in a play-making capacity will be interesting to observe.
Many of our Sevens headlines in recent times have revolved around a shock loss and what not. Much of this is thanks to the strength of international Sevens as other nations put more and more resources into their Sevens programs, chasing Olympic gold. This is also thanks in part to the forced inconsistency in the squads selected by Tietjens as he's had to battle injuries and availability, both of which have hindered his ability to roll with a full-strength group for the World Series.
Let's be honest, the World Series doesn't really matter in Olympic year and the time has come for the All Blacks Sevens team to really start fine-tuning everything for the Sevens. I'd be a bit worried if I were opposition teams as the competition for places in this All Blacks Sevens team will mean that everyone is eager to make an impression, especially with the Ioane brothers and Pulu coming into the squad.