It’s been 92 long years since rugby last appeared at the Olympics, so 2016 is a very good year for both rugby and the Olympics. Rugby sevens seems to be as popular as ever and with Spain qualifying for Rio, it just shows how much of an impact rugby is having around the world. So this week, we’re looking at 5 key players you simply have to look out for.
Perry Baker – USA
Originally earmarked for a career in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles, a knee injury abruptly turned his focus to rugby in 2013. After channelling into Sevens rugby, he quickly began to make a name for himself. Most notably was the quarter final win against New Zealand in London in May, scoring an incredible four tries. His blistering pace equates to falling just outside the Olympic 100m qualifying time. Give Baker an inch and he will undoubtedly take a mile. In a pool against Argentina, Brazil and Fiji, coach Mike Friday would expect nothing short than top spot. And with Baker’s and the USA Eagles’ recent form, there’s no doubting just how far they can go. I’d be sure to bank on at least a bronze medal and could be the surprise package in Rio. Expect Baker to score aplenty with his dazzling turn of pace.
Sonny Bill Williams – New Zealand
Whether it’s 15’s or 7’s, any team that includes Sonny Bill Williams guarantees you entertainment. Following his sevens debut in 2016, he helped steer his New Zealand side to victories in both Wellington and Sydney. Williams’ eye for the offload in the tackle makes him an extremely dangerous opponent for any defender. His ability to draw in defenders to make space for his team mates is second to none, making his presence on the field that even more invaluable. Coach Gordon Tietjens is sure Williams is reaching his sevens best in time for Rio, meaning they will certainly be seen as one of, if not, the favourites for gold. What a competition in store. Williams has the capacity to light up the tournament and be the standout player.
Collins Injera – Kenya
Collins Injera holds the accolade for the Rugby Sevens all time try scorer with 235. With 32 tries in the 2015/16 World Series season alone, Injera has almost certainly brought Kenya to the forefront of sevens rugby. By no means a pushover for any team, Kenya will be confident of a strong finish at Rio, despite being grouped with GB, New Zealand and Japan in Pool C. In Injera, the Kenyans have a confident, assured and composed attacking player who will score tries at any opportunity. He pushes any defence and he could be the difference in a win – loss situation. For Kenya, it could almost certainly be the win situation.
Seabelo Senatla – South Africa
Seabelo Senatla finished the 2015/16 Sevens World Series as top try scorer and only one point off the overall points scorer. A proven try scorer, the Blitzbokke will undoubtedly need his attacking prowess to see off the top teams in the competition. At only 23 years of age, there’s no stopping this guy’s rugby career. With speed, guile and finesse, Senatla will be looking to light up the tournament and will certainly be pushing for gold. Confidence will be high for Senatla and his South African team mates following their second place finish in the World Series. Senatla could be right up there as the top try scorer but ultimately South Africa could be the team t0 beat at the business end of the competition. Medal guaranteed? I wouldn’t bet against it.
Dan Norton – Great Britain
Dan Norton has been one of the standout performers for England 7’s over the last couple of years. Establishing himself on the sevens circuit has catapulted him up to fourth as all time top try scorer in the World Series. Despite a poor showing with England this season, Norton will be quietly confident of a good finish at Rio. Norton’s try scoring will be huge for GB, especially being drawn with New Zealand, Kenya and Japan. All of which have renowned players and standout performers. Hopefully Norton will have packed his A game and will certainly need his speed boots on. His standout sprint times are astonishing! Enough to put Usain Bolt to shame (2.7secs for 20m). Similar to Perry Baker in having that ability and confidence to go one on one and typically win, Norton’s experience in the sevens scene should give the GB team enough of a threat to compete and make it through to the business end of the competition. Gold maybe a little too far beyond team GB’s capabilities, but expect them to be in with a chance of Bronze.
As a rugby fan, having rugby sevens at the Olympics should be a celebration in itself. Rugby will once again reach a far wider audience with the potential to bring in new fans, players and clubs. The Olympics will showcase rugby for what it is; a sport that brings people together.
Whoever you’re supporting, enjoy it; savour it, as before you know it, it’ll all be over.