Picking the Best Sevens Team for the World's Top 10 Rugby Nations
We are approaching the last two rounds of this year's HSBC Sevens World Series, and the Olympics are just over two years away.
The short format of the game will make its bow in Rio 2016 and is sure to provide plenty of thrills and spills for spectators in Brazil.
With the rise of the game’s popularity has come the age of the specialist Sevens player. Men like England’s Ben Gollings and Kenyan Collins Injera have become household names in the Sevens world but with its new Olympic status must come the temptation for some of the 15-a-side game’s bigger names to try their hand at winning an Olympic medal.
Here’s what some of the sides might look like.
1. New Zealand
Nanai-Williams is an outrageous talent who can strike from anywhere on the field in XVs and would be a deadly short format player.
Ben Smith, who excelled on the wing for the All Blacks last year has to make the side for his silky running and great hands. The live-wire scrum-half Aaron Smith is next for his heads-up style and explosive speed off the mark.
Rounding out the team, it’s got to be more pace, so Charles Piutau is my pick. He came up through the Sevens side before making his full All Blacks bow, and he has the searing pace and mesmerizing feet the best Sevens players need.
2. South Africa
There’s no shortage of muscle in South Africa’s stock of players but that little bit of Sevens magic is a rarer quality for the Green and Gold. Sevens specialist Cecil Afrika therefore must be retained.
Alongside him, Pat Lambie of the Sharks certainly has plenty of X-factor, so he gets into this side. Searing pace and fast feet also secure a berth for Cheetahs and Springboks dynamo Willie Le Roux, who had an outstanding breakthrough 2013.
We need a back row all-rounder who can blow people away in those fast breakdown scenarios so we’ll plump for the monstrous athlete that is Pierre Spies, who also has frightening pace for a big back-rower.
J.P. Pietersen is still a class act at world level and would relish the open spaces on a Sevens field.
Bryan Habana gets in with his deadly finishing ability and fleet feet, while the bolter in this side is Saracens hooker Schalk Brits. There is no front row forward in world rugby better or faster with ball in hand.
Dan Norton, a mainstay of the Red Rose Sevens side is retained for his specialist skills and unrivalled speed.
Tom Mitchell is the current Sevens side’s points machine and playmaker so he stays in this team.
If Ireland want a playmaker to build an Olympic Sevens side around and had the pick of all their players, surely Jonny Sexton would be the stand out choice.
Throw in his brother Dave for good measure. Add some strength and power for the rough stuff from Jamie Heaslip and top it off with the flair of Simon Zebo and you have a potent mix.
Chris Fusaro may have made little impact in his first season in the 15-a-side squad but his style of play as a No. 7 transfers well to the seven-man game.
The experience of Sevens stalwart Colin Gregor cannot be overlooked and neither can the power and energy of 15-a-side No. 8 Dave Denton.
Tim Visser was first scouted as a sevens player in Amsterdam and has gone on to prove an adept, powerful wing in 15s.
He deserves a spot in this side for his speed and size. With one spot remaining, it has to go to Alex Dunbar, the centre who impressed so much in the Six Nations and would have some fun in the open spaces.
How well would the juggernauts of the Welsh 15-a-side backline cross over into the razzle dazzle of the world of Sevens?
It would certainly be fun to find out.
In from the cold comes James Hook to pull the strings and scrum-half Rhys Webb to busy himself keeping the phases going.
Not a bad lineup, is it?
The Aussies have never really shone in Sevens since the days of David Campese but imagine their best side full of these creative, quick-footed backs.
Wesley Fofana has to be in this side. The centre simply has the lot.
Brice Dulin was the best player in a French shirt in the Six Nations and would rip teams apart in this format.
Back-rower Yannick Nyanga qualifies for his world class all-round ability and the trickery of Maxime Medard makes him hard to ignore. Youngster Gael Fickou has the raw pace and power to make him a potent Sevens player.
Maxime Mermoz has the skills and pace to make a wonderful Sevens player, while Castres No. 10 Remi Tales could pull the strings for this enigmatic ensemble.
Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe is a talismanic figure who can inspire any side in any format.
He’s in, as is the hugely promising Pablo Matera, a specialist open-side in the full format for who great things are expected, underlined by his capture by Leicester.
Fly-half Nicolas Sanchez can orchestrate proceedings while scrum-half Nicolas Cubelli is the live-wire to provide the Pumas with a high tempo.
The Hurricanes’ Alapati Leuia has the requisite box of tricks for the game of Sevens and was under consideration for the All Blacks last season before staying true to his Samoan roots.
He is headed for Wasps next season. Leuia’s ‘Canes team-mates Jack Lam and Tusi Pisi are good enough to join him.
Old-stager David Lemi still has the pace to exploit the room afforded him on the Sevens stage.