Ten To Watch In Hong Kong

The flagship tournament of the IRB sevens circuit is upon us! The fun begins in just a few hours, so here are ten top entertainers to keep your eyes on!

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James Stannard

Most Australians should recognize the name of the former Western Force halfback. Stannard has spent the past year plying his trade for Toyota Shokki in Japan, where his small stature is less pronounced. The Commonwealth Games veteran has superb skills and vision, and should provide strong leadership to a very young Australian side, whether he features as a starter or not.

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Taylor Paris

The golden boy of Canadian rugby signed his first full-time professional contract with Glasgow Warriors this season, and though he hasn’t seen a great deal of game time with them, it’s clear that the exposure to top level training has paid dividends. In the absence of injured captain Phil Mack, Paris has been asked to step into the scrumhalf role and so far he has made it look easy. With his side in good form and a favourable pool draw, he could be a key factor should Canada make the Cup finals.

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Marcus Watson

More diminutive and less hyped but no less exciting than his younger brother Anthony, this Watson has taken to sevens like a duck to water. Usually an outside back in the full game, his skills see him take on the playmaking flyhalf role in the shorter version. Many an inside defender has been made to look foolish by his quick stepping and deceiving strength. With regular starter Tom Mitchell out injured, Watson will be the key man for England’s hopes in Hong Kong.

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Leone Nakarawa

It’s not often that you find second rows with the athleticism to succeed in sevens, but then this is Fiji, where even the giants seem to have springs in their shoes. At 6’6” (199cm) and over 18st (117kg) he will be the biggest man in the tournament, and combines with captain Nemani Nagusa to give his country two imposing specimens to punch holes in opposing defensive lines. The weakened Fijian side will need the World Cup star to do his best impersonation of the Man Mountain (former captain Semisi Naevo) if they hope to get a run at the title.

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Julien Candelon

Long-time Perpignan star Candelon won two senior caps for France in 2005 against South Africa and Australia, and scored tries in each match, but has been surprisingly overlooked ever since. Now approaching the twilight of his career, the pocket rocket has retained much of his speed and upper body strength. One of the top try scorers on the circuit this season, there are few, if any, more dangerous attackers in Hong Kong this weekend.

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Dennis Ombachi

A star from the Mwamba club in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, Ombachi has emerged as one of the new breed of exciting talents in Michael Friday’s squad. While pace and guile have always been traits of his countrymen, it is the physical stature and strength of this young athlete that best embodies the new professional approach brought to the side. In the absence of suspended talisman Collins Injera, the tackle-breaking ability of Ombachi will be central to Kenya’s offensive game plan.

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Rocky Khan

There are no more revered discoverers of hidden talent in world rugby than legendary Kiwi coach Gordon Tietjens, and in Khan he looks to have unearthed another show stopper. The first player of Indo-Fijian origin to play for New Zealand, he is small but devastatingly quick of both foot and mind. Having been groomed as Tomasi Cama’s replacement, he now gets his chance with his mentor out injured.

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Afa Aiono

Samoan forwards are typically extremely physical, but this fella is abrasive even by those standards. There is likely no opponent, D.J. Forbes aside, that opposition forces enjoy lining up against. Ferocious in the tackle, fearless with ball in hand, and relentless at the breakdown, the only thing that seems to be able to stop the Samoan captain is a tendency to be over-exuberant and draw penalties, or worse, yellow cards. If he can hold his discipline, his country could well be considered tournament favourites.

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Russell Weir

Scotland appear to have turned a corner this season. Since replacing coach Phil Greening with Stephen Gemmell they have looked a far more competitive side, and central to that resurgence is young playmaker Weir. The former Loughborough University captain is a graduate of the national u20 program, and looks set to follow in the footsteps of his mentor Colin Gregor as Scotland’s next great playmaker. Look out for his shock of blond hair and impressive array of skills.

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Carlin Isles

All aboard the hype train! There’s no denying the excitement that arises every time he touches the ball. The fastest man in the tournament makes everyone else look pedestrian with any space at all, the question is will he see the ball? US coach Alex Magleby has had a tendency to be conservative with his deployment of the star, let’s hope for the spectator’s sake he is more liberal this weekend. Attention Americans – pass the ball to Carlin!

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