Moscow – Russia on Thursday unveiled the draw for what is set to be a fiercely-contested Rugby World Cup Sevens in Moscow, with holders Wales to clash with sevens specialists Fiji in the group stages.
Perennial favourites New Zealand should have few problems safely negotiating their Pool D against the United States, Canada and Georgia.
The six men's groups will also pit France against Australia and hosts Russia in a tough Pool B against Japan, Scotland and heavyweights South Africa.
International Rugby Board (IRB) chairman Bernard Lapasset said that the June 28-30 event would “capture the hearts” of millions with one of the world's “most exciting sporting spectacles”.
The World Cup will be the last edition before Rugby Sevens becomes a full Olympic sport at the 2016 Rio Olympics, where a host of top stars are expected to turn to the shorter version of the game.
“The Russian people love Olympic sports... I am confident that Moscow 2013 will be a resounding success,” Lapasset said at the glitzy draw in Moscow attended by Russian sports stars and even cosmonauts.
The tournament, by far the biggest rugby event ever hosted by Russia, will be played at the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow, the centrepiece of the 1980 Moscow Olympics and the expected venue of the football World Cup final in 2018.
The competition will also give a huge boost to rugby in Russia, whose sporting traditions give it great potential to become a big power but where the game is only just starting to make waves.
Wales were the shock winners of the last edition of the Rugby Sevens World Cup in Dubai in 2009, when the four favourites were knocked out in the quarterfinals – one of the attractions of the shortened version of rugby.
Fiji, winners of the Sevens World Cup in 1997 and 2005, will always be fair bet given the importance they stake on sevens, but Waisale Serevi, for many the greatest sevens player ever, said there were no longer any guarantees in a sport where the gaps between the teams have become ever narrower.
“There are no longer 'big teams' and 'small teams' in sevens, the margin is closing between all the teams,” the Fijian legend said.
As well as the established northern hemisphere six nations and southern hemisphere four nations, sevens brings a host of countries less seen in 15-aside with Kenya in particular becoming a global force in recent years.
One side hoping to spring a surprise will be the Philippines, a country that will not only be making its first appearance in a rugby World Cup but a world cup in any team sport.
Kenya and the Philippines have been drawn together in a potentially exciting group that also includes Zimbabwe and Samoa. – Sapa-AFP