Here we are, just in time for the greatest show on earth, it’s finally time for the Hong Kong 7s! Look for these 10 stars to stand out among the others.
After a year away from international rugby with concussion problems, one of Canada’s brightest talents made his 7s debut at the Wellington tournament in February. A flyhalf in the full version with 6 test caps to his name, Underwood is one of those rare talents who seem to have everything. Blessed with speed, skills, and vision, it’s no surprise that he’s adapted to the shortened game so quickly. Having just finished representing Canada at the Pacific Challenge in Fiji, the question is can he switch gears on less than a week’s notice?
The strong running centre has taken an unusual route to the 7s program, drifting around the English Championship before finding his way to Wasps in 2013. At some point he caught the eye of Simon Amor and after only one season in the Premiership he was signed up on a central contract for 7s duty. His style is also somewhat unique in that he still runs the same straight, hard lines that marked his XVs play, and so far it seems to be working. With the size to play in the scrum or the midfield, Hayter has become an unlikely standout in a game he was never designed to play.
As if Ben Ryan’s squad didn’t have enough firepower up front, one of the game’s most impressive forwards is back in business. Not to be confused with diminutive halfback Jerry, the giant Pio has been absent but not unwanted by Fiji, instead plying his trade on a lucrative contract in Sri Lanka for the past few months. His soft hands and turn of pace belie his bulk, on form he is truly a sight to behold.
A somewhat quiet statement at the beginning of the month announced that 7 veteran members of the French side were not having their contracts renewed, among them former captain Vincent Deniau. While his age certainly played a part, another reason has been the emergence of his protégé as a top flight international forward. Laugel doesn’t just resemble his mentor in appearance, his abrasive style and ability at the restart are also carbon copies, and the captaincy might not be far down the line either.
There was a strange sight running around in a speckled jersey in Las Vegas, not least because of his size, but somehow he looked vaguely familiar. That’s because the big bloke in the scrum cap was former Reds, Brumbies, and Wallabies lock Dan Heenan. Having lived in Japan now for the best part of 8 years, the 33 year old is using the Olympic loophole to qualify for his adopted country and it would come as no surprise if Eddie Jones included him in his World Cup plans.
It’s never easy to replace a player the calibre of Gillies Kaka, but in name and style, this Waaka fella is doing pretty darn well. The Taranaki playmaker made his debut in Wellington and was forced to step up after Kaka broke his arm in Las Vegas. Though he took a bit of a schooling from Jerry Tuwai in a difficult cup final, Waaka showed he had the goods to do the job in Hong Kong, and now he has his chance. Expect to see some magic from the youngster with the world at his fingertips.
It’s 50 tournaments, not out for one of Samoa’s longest serving 7s stars. Long groomed as a replacement for the great Uale Ma’i, he has similar playmaking skills but takes a much more physical approach with his bigger frame. A versatile player with 2 full test caps to his name in XVs, Tupou returns from injury for his first action on this year’s circuit and brings a much-needed boost of experience to a Samoan side in transition and struggling to find consistency.
When you think of South African forwards, you tend to picture big, carnivorous, snarling types frothing for action. That might not be an appropriate description for Frankie Horne, but you get the idea. Smith was a flanker on the 2013 Baby Boks side but ultimately considered too small for professional XVs. As it turns out, he was born to play 7s. His fitness, support lines, and strength over the ball are as good as any on the circuit, and a big part of South Africa’s rise to the top of the table this season. The likes of Cecil Afrika and Seabelo Senatla might get the plaudits, but it’s this guy who makes the Blitzbokke tick.
A standout at American football, Unufe was very raw when he was brought on the scene a couple years ago, but the talent was there for all to see. Initially employed as a try-scoring winger, he’s been asked to play the distributor role for the high octane duo of Carlin Isles and Perry Baker, and he’s adapted superbly. His emergence as a top-class centre has changed the complexion of Mike Friday’s Eagles, from also-runs into cup contenders. Watch for his awareness of space this weekend.
It’s becoming a bit of an old joke, that Wales are the underachievers of the 7s circuit. It’s not as if head coach Gareth Williams is doing a bad job, there’s only so much you can achieve when the regions aren’t supportive. Thankfully they’ve decided to help out a bit, with the release of a handful of top pros to bolster the squad, chief among them Scarlets scrumhalf Rhodri Williams. After winning 3 caps in the 2013 November test series, Williams has struggled for game time behind Gareth Davies, and in a search to regain form and confidence he turns to the shortened game. With a cheeky step and sharp distribution skills, the little halfback could add the Olympics beside the World Cup on his list of targets.