It’s the weekend all 7s fans look forward to every year, the biggest party on the circuit. Here are ten stars to watch out for among the many on show.
The Blitzbokke came oh so close to taking the spoils in Tokyo, and one wonders if they might have had their star playmaker been fit to partake. One of the very best players South Africa have ever produced in the shortened version, Afrika is a fabulously gifted footballer with superb skills from both hand and foot, and his return is a big boost to the squad with the series title on a knife edge. Alongside Justin Geduld and Branco du Preez, coach Neil Powell has three dynamite sparks capable of weaving magic, but there’s no question whose name will be first on the team sheet.
Paul Treu might not have Humphrey Kayange to call on, but he does have another talismanic figure up front to lean on for some much-needed inspiration. The Kenyan captain was one of the few to stand out of his countrymen in what has a mediocre effort in Tokyo. Tall and limber even though heavily armored with muscle, Amonde is a powerhouse runner with excellent offloading skills who is more than happy to lower the shoulder when his team needs some hard yards.
A recent graduate of the famed UCal Golden Bears program, the big back rower is more rugged than what one might expect from someone out of San Francisco. After some eye-catching displays in the ARC tournament he’s been thrown in at the deep end in the IRB circuit, to which he has responded superbly. Somewhat ungainly but deceivingly quick, his trademarks are a piston-like fend (as Canadian Harry Jones can attest to) and thumping tackles that leave even the spectators wincing.
Gordon Tietjens has a habit of turning prospects into world beaters, and had this dynamo from Auckland not been injured for the entirety of the ITM Cup he might already be plying his trade in Super Rugby, but instead he is regaining his fitness on the circuit once more. The nephew of current Connacht coach and former Manu Samoa legend Pat Lam has a strong pedigree and stronger strides. Formerly a hulking winger, he is now found more often in the midfield, sucking in defenders and creating space for the likes Sherwin Stowers and George Tilsley out wide.
There are at least a half dozen genuine stars one could pick out from the defending champions, names like Pio Tuwai and Samisoni Viriviri, but the man who stole the show in Tokyo was the Navy representative from Kadavu. With captain Osea Kolinisau occupying the flyhalf position, Mulevoro has had to fight off the quicksilver Waisea Nacuqu for the scrumhalf spot. Blessed with lightning acceleration and dancing feet that would make his illustrious predecessors proud, don’t be surprised to see him shine again at So Kon Po.
Followers of Argentine rugby might recognize a familiar name among their contingent, one more often associated with the pink jersey of Stade Français than that of the Pumas 7s side. After featuring heavily in the World Cup he has struggled with injury for the past couple seasons and finding game time harder to come by, Rodriguez has returned to Rosario to revive his career, and is hoping to restore some confidence with a return to the faster code. Strongly built and with good footballing skills, he’ll hope his experience rubs off on some of his younger teammates this weekend.
England’s ginger giant plays his 50th tournament in Hong Kong, adding another stamp on his accomplished international career that began in Dubai in 2008 and also includes two 7s World Cups and a Commonwealth Games. The aerial specialist is approaching his 30th birthday but remains in peak physical condition and one of the premier support players on the circuit. Six years is a lengthy career in this competition, but his old teammate Simon Amor will be hoping he can get a couple more from one of his on-field lieutenants.
The dynamic midfielder looked set for stardom after scoring two tries against the All Blacks at the World Cup, but injuries and university obligations have slowed his progress. With both now behind him, the 24 year old has turned his focus to international rugby, starting with 7s, in the hopes of earning a professional contract. In this version he usually lines up at prop, but it’s his running and distribution skills that have helped propel a surging Canadian side from also-rans to regular cup quarter finalists.
You could be forgiven for thinking that the Racing Métro flyer was playing for another country, he is after all a Fijian age-grade international, but he has instead opted to wear the tricolors of his adopted nation like that of another recent residency ‘poach’, Noa Nakaitaci. Whether or not one agrees with the policy, his talent and potential to step up to the senior side are not so debateable. A three-quarter in XVs, he lined up at prop for France in Tokyo and his strength and balanced running have the eyes of the selectors already.
Wales lost one of their playmakers in Rhys Jones to injury in Tokyo, but have thankfully regained the services of another. Williams is one of their few top-class 7s exponents, the last remaining member of the World Cup winners, and his speed of foot and thought will be a major boost to the side. On top of his talents he also assumes the captaincy, a role not foreign but a challenging one in light of his team’s struggles this season.