Olympics: Sevens stars to watch
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Players to watch at the Sevens at the Rio Olympics, which gets underway on Tuesday.
SONNY BILL WILLIAMS (New Zealand)
'SBW' is one of the few players to have starred in the 15-a-side game and successfully transition to the abbreviated form. While World Rugby president Bill Beaumont has insisted that Sevens didn't need big-name players from the 15-a-side game, but there can be no denying the two-time World Cup winner is a massive draw. And he is not in the All Blacks squad as a token, Williams having spent a year playing Sevens to hone his skills and fitness in a bid to make the Olympics. His physicality and unmatched off-loading ability make Williams a dangerous player for any opponents.
COLLINS INJERA (Kenya)
Injera is the all-time leading try scorer on the Sevens World Series with 235 after 10 seasons. Despite being an experienced head in the world series, it was only back in May that Injera lifted his first ever Cup silverware as Kenya made history with a win in Singapore. His two tries in the first half of the final against Fiji put the momentum firmly with Kenya and again highlighted Injera's big-game mentality, a crucial asset heading into the Olympic Games. Experience aside, Injera is an all-rounder, as strong in defence as he is lethal in attack. If his teammates gel, Kenya will be eyeing a podium finish.
CARLIN ISLES (United States)
If things had gone to plan, the Olympic Games might have witnessed a duel between Isles, now the fastest man in rugby, and the fastest man on the planet. But instead of lining up against Jamaican sprint king Usain Bolt in Rio de Janeiro, Isles will be going for gold with a rugby ball. The flying wing is one of the most potent weapons in the United States' Sevens squad, with a respectable personal best of 10.12sec for the 100m, a time that would have got him into the semi-finals of the 2012 Games. His on-field speed is something to behold and in tandem with the equally fleet-footed Perry Baker - the second highest try-scorer for the 2015-16 Sevens Series with 48 - the US team has a strikeforce that can damage, depending on the forwards and playmakers securing and keeping enough ball.
OSEA KOLINISAU (Fiji)
Fiji are aiming for a first ever Olympic medal. After winning the Sevens Series for the second consecutive year, skipper Kolinisau and his teammates will have the weight of the South Seas island on their shoulders when they take to the pitch in search of history. After carrying the Fijian flag at the opening ceremony, Kolinisau was the top tackler on the 2015-16 series with 128, and is one of only a few Fijian players who regularly plays almost every minute of every match during a tournament. Aside from his strong defence, he is a potent attacker in a team that, on their day, can set any tournament alight.
VIRIMI VAKATAWA (France)
Like Sonny Bill, Vakatawa has the 15-a-side game experience, plucked by Guy Noves for the opening two matches of last season's Six Nations. The Fijian-born wing, under a Sevens contract with the French federation, did not embarrass himself, but returned to star on the Sevens stage. A stepper capable of breaking defensive lines, Vakatawa also has incredibly good handling skills, thriving off his play-making teammate Terry Bouhraoua.
PERRY BAKER (United States)
Perry Baker may just be a global household name in the making when it comes to rugby Sevens. Fans who have dipped a toe into the world series will have seen his exploits on the global stage. Silky running, clinical finishing and arguably the second fastest player out there behind United States teammate Carlin Isles. Know as 'Speedstick', Baker almost broke into the NFL back in 2013 when he was earmarked to be a wide receiver with the Philadelphia Eagles, following in the footsteps of his brother Dallas who won the Super Bowl with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2009. However, a career-ending knee injury thwarted his trajectory into NFL fame and it's in that tough time that Baker found rugby Sevens. Baker's impact on the world series has been huge, finishing as second highest try scorer for 2015-16 with 48 tries. At the London Sevens in 2014-15, Baker was an integral part of the United States's first ever Cup win, scoring twice in the semi-final against England and once in the final against Australia.
RIEKO IOANE (New Zealand)
At 19 years old, Rieko Ioane is a Sevens prodigy. He made his debut on the world series when he was 17 and produced performances beyond his years in his first season, scoring six tries on his debut in Wellington in 2015 as New Zealand lifted the Cup. The younger brother of Akira, the duo play for the Blues in Super Rugby and were only cherry picked for certain events during the 2015-16 series. However, when they were chosen, New Zealand tended to produce some of their best running rugby. In Sydney and Wellington earlier in the year, New Zealand walked away with two Cup victories with Rieko instrumental in both tournaments. In Wellington, he scored five tries. In Sydney, seven tries, including a hat-trick in the final against Australia. Give him the ball and he does the rest. With pace and vision to be on the shoulder of playmakers like Joe Webber and Gillies Kaka, you can be sure to see Ioane going over the whitewash for tries in Rio.
HENRY HUTCHISON (Australia)
Little 'King' Henry, as he is sometimes called, has been in royal form during the 2015-16 series and took home the coveted Rookie of the Year award following his performances. At just 19-years-old, Hutchison is another young buck making waves in the world of rugby Sevens. He scored 27 tries in the series, eighth overall in the try-scoring charts for 2015-16 and one behind the aforementioned Rieko Ioane. Give Hutchison an inch of space and he more than likely will turn it into points on the board. He may be 'King' Henry but will he be walking away from Rio with gold?
DAN NORTON (Great Britain)
Just one of four players in the world series to have scored more than 200 tries, Norton is a member of an exclusive club that puts him firmly as one to watch heading into Rio. Usually plying his trade with England, being part of Team GB will be a new experience for the 28-year-old but rest assured his try-scoring prowess looks set to continue, having found form in the 2015-16 series. With 22 tries to his name, including a six-try haul in Hong Kong in April, Norton has regained the kind of form that saw him shred defences to pieces back in the 2011-12 series, where he finished as second top try scorer with 37 tries. Considering Team GB have New Zealand, Kenya and Japan in their pool, Norton will be relied on for his unbelievably quick feet and outright pace to help them into the knockout stages.
Sources. Agence France-Presse & World Rugby