A large carrot dangles in front of the Oceania Sevens Championship contenders in Auckland this weekend.

The respective winners in the men's and women's competitions will qualify directly for the 2016 Rio Olympics. The All Blacks Sevens and their female counterparts are already through after the 2014-15 World Series, so the interest will fall on the rest of the Oceania Sevens cream.

The favourites to contest the men's final will be Australia and Samoa. The Australians, whose interim coach Tim Walsh has already guided the women's side to Rio qualification, finished fifth in the 2014-15 World Series, while Samoa slipped badly to place 10th, and will be anxious to give Samoan rugby a boost after a poor showing at the World Cup.

The Samoans have a new-look team with a new coach, former England Sevens assistant Damian McGrath, assisted by former Manu Samoa star Brian Lima. Of West Auckland interest in the Samoan squad is Waitemata club fullback Phoenix Hunapo, a brilliant touch player who runs freely in the 15s game.


Australia can field plenty of experience, though there was no room for Wallaby and former Waikato wing Henry Speight, who was in an extended squad.

"They've prepared really well ... physically and mentally, they're there and preparation breeds confidence," Walsh said.

Australia won the recent Central Coast Sevens and can call on seasoned and classy Sevens exponents such as Cameron Clark, Ed Jenkins, Greg Jeloudev and James Stannard.

McGrath has been working with the Samoan squad since taking up his post in August.

"We've only been together eight weeks, so preparation has been hectic. However, the players have been very dedicated and made great strides. Ideally we'd love another month but we will give a good account of ourselves," McGrath said.

Sixty of the best women's Sevens players in New Zealand will also be in action. The second leg of the Women's Sevens Series will run alongside the Oceania Sevens.

Five teams will compete for a spot in the final tomorrow before the Championship finals.

SKY Sport will carry live coverage of the two-day tournament.


Matches kick off at Trusts Arena in Waitakere at 10am each day and entry is free.