SINGAPORE - This weekend's Singapore leg of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series is anyone's game, and whether it is a favourite or an underdog that lifts the trophy on Sunday evening at the National Stadium, it will be a surprise.
Kenya won the first edition of the HSBC Singapore Sevens in 2016 - their first-ever win in the series - with Canada sensationally beating the likes of New Zealand, England and the USA en route to the trophy last year.
The Kiwis are coming off the back of a Commonwealth Games gold-medal performance on the Gold Coast on April 15, and despite making five changes to their squad, will be deemed favourites.
But coach Clark Laidlaw, speaking to The Straits Times on the sidelines of the launch of the sevens at the Pan Pacific Hotel on Tuesday (April 24), believes that the term "surprise" has been used too loosely.
On having unheralded winners at previous editions of the Singapore Sevens, he said: "Some people might think it's a surprise, but for us it's not necessarily a surprise any more. On the circuit, there are one of 10 teams who could win - who knows who'll win this weekend."
"Maybe it'll be a surprise if we won, because we've never done it before," he added, tongue in cheek."Hopefully our preparation puts us in good stead for the weekend, and we get through our group, then come back on the second day and stay consistent."
Consistency is a key factor for Canada, with coach Damian McGrath crossing his fingers that external issues will not scupper their hopes of turning in another winning performance.
Fatigue will be a massive factor for the small Canadian squad, who have had to play three tournaments - Hong Kong Sevens, Commonwealth Games and Singapore - in a space of just four weeks.
"Unlike most of these big countries, we're taking the same 14 players to all events because we don't have any strength in depth - rugby is a minority sport in Canada," he said.
"We've also been hit with a hammer blow, John Moonlight retired after the Commonwealth Games, all that just means we're fighting to work against these big countries."
Moonlight is Canada's stalwart and captain, a loss exacerbated by the team's injury situation.
"Last season we won on the back of an injury-free year; this year injuries have come in thick and fast, so we've lost a couple of players - that is part and parcel of the sport," said McGrath.
"If we can play like we did last year, then we're in with a chance. We're definitely not here to make up the numbers."
Singapore is the eighth of the 10-stop series, with the London and Paris legs still to come. South Africa lead the standings with 126 points, with Fiji just three points behind. New Zealand are the only other possible contender, but their 107-point total means a charge for the series title must start here in Singapore.
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