Sevens' return a game-changer
OLYMPIC SPOTLIGHT: When rugby return to the Olympic Games, some of the sport's greatest names will be watching from the sidelines.
Despite their best efforts, only a handful of the brightest stars from the 15-a-side game will feature in Rio.
All Black centre Sonny Bill Williams, Argentina winger Juan Imhoff and Scotland centre Mark Bennett are among the very few 15-a-side players who will be starring at the Deodoro Stadium.
However, Springbok wing Bryan Habana and France flank Fulgence Ouedraogo were just two of the high-profile stars not to have made the cut - as the increasing demands of the ever-evolving abbreviated game show true.
Too much public delight, many 15-a-side stars threw their hats into the ring for inclusion in the race for Olympic gold, but they were given a quick wake-up call after run-outs on the 10-leg Sevens World Series circuit.
Thrown in amongst professional Sevens players, with most of the tier one nations having dedicated Sevens player contracts, they quickly found they were not up to the mark, by far, in terms of fitness, skills and game-reading capability.
Racing 92 and Pumas wing Imhoff told AFP about his transition back from 15-a-side to Sevens.
"It's very tough," Imhoff said.
"It's really tough to manage to give my best at Sevens as I try to do at 15-a-side.
"Physically, it's been complicated. I've thrown up several times in training sessions."
World Rugby Chairman, Bill Beaumont said 15-a-side stars had been given their due chance by respective unions.
Beaumont has also insisted that Sevens did not need big name players coming in - albeit recognising the social networking power of having someone like Sonny Bill Williams on board.
"There are going to be superstars that emerge from these Games," Beaumont said.
"A great many countries conducted trials for their 15 side players to try and get into the Sevens squad but they didn't make it.
"There will be new stars, every player who plays 15-a-side had the opportunity to at least try and get on the Sevens squad.
"But there's some players who, like myself, do not have the body shape to play Sevens"
The former England captain Beaumont has also described the sport's Olympics return in Rio as "a game-changer".
"The Olympic Games halo effect started the moment we were voted back onto the programme in 2009," he said.
"In short, it has been a game-changer, enhancing our vision of a sport for all.
"This is the players' moment to shine, to enjoy and inspire."
New Zealand coach Gordon Tietjens has overseen 46 players who have advanced from his Sevens side into the full All Black jersey.
"Every player that plays for my All Blacks Sevens team aspires to be a 15-a-side All Black," Tietjens said.
"With the Olympics, that will provide attraction for a lot of athletes to really put their hands up to play Sevens perhaps."
Sonny Bill Williams was a member of both 2011 and 2015 World Cup-winning squads and has also been named in Steve Hansen's squad for this year's Rugby Championship.
Williams admitted that it had been a tough learning curve.
"The key was putting myself in the Sevens environment through the whole year, to learn off my teammates and to become a Sevens player," Williams said.
"I definitely feel like I have now.
“The fitness levels are up where they should be and the knowledge of the game as well."