10 Players to Look Out For In The Commonwealth Games Sevens Rugby

Tom Sunderland@@TomSunderland_Featured ColumnistJuly 8, 2014

10 Players to Look Out For In The Commonwealth Games Sevens Rugby

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    New Zealand will seek to win Commonwealth Games Sevens gold for the fifth time in 16 years later this month, with no other nation capable of breaking their hold on the competition just yet.

    Glasgow will welcome 16 of the world's finest Sevens nations to their Scottish setting, each with the aim of progressing from their respective pools before then making a run at the All Blacks' throne.

    With such a thriving raft of talent all summoned under one roof, it's therefore only natural that some stars shine brighter than others.

    Here, we take a look at those assets most deserving of one's attention, whether they be a budding talent, a well-established force of the sport or a returning face making their comeback after a long absence.

1. Liam Gill, Australia

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    Having been a part of the Australian team that took silver in Delhi four years ago, Liam Gill returns to the Commonwealth Games hoping to go one better during his Scottish expedition.

    The ARU revealed via their official website on Monday that the Queensland Reds flanker had been selected as part of Geraint John's squad, with the head coach heading for his first tournament at the team's helm.

    Gill makes his return to the Sevens circuit after a period focused on his progress in Super Rugby, and although the Reds' 2014 season has been one to forget, this may still give the 22-year-old a chance to end his summer with a flourish.

    In the full union code, Gill has developed a reputation for being something of a terrier at the breakdown, an aspect of his game he'll look to showcase in the turnover stakes come July 26.

2. Luke Treharne, Wales

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    "Sevens specialist" isn't necessarily the tag that every rugby player aspires for in their career, but at the very start of his career, Luke Treharne will have no qualms about gaining that reputation.

    BBC Sport announced last week that the Exeter University student had been picked for Gareth Williams' roster for the trip north, where he has the opportunity to really open up the floor as an emerging star in his trade.

    The older Treharne sibling—Luke's younger brother Dai is also a blooming Sevens commodity—has featured prominently with the Samurai Sevens in the past, and with his studies now on hold, the Welshman is likely to jump at the opportunity afforded to him.

    It's likely that the 21-year-old has higher international honours ahead of him, but these being his first real steps for Wales, the world will get a better look at the prospect in Glasgow.

3. Cheslin Kolbe, South Africa

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    Cheslin Kolbe has done a fine job of maintaining his loyalties across several tiers of South African rugby in recent years, whether it be his Super Rugby displays with the Stormers or in Currie Cup competition for Western Province.

    However, his international duties have also gone well-served as the 20-year-old featured in both the 2013 Junior World Championship and last year's Rugby World Cup Sevens.

    He now makes his way back into the South African set-up for the trip to Glasgow after a mixed campaign with the Stormers, during which his lightning-fast presence filled in on the wing, at centre and in a more familiar full-back role.

    One can expect to see Kolbe dazzle in Glasgow as long as injury and inclusion will allow him, having been sidelined for eight weeks at the start of the 2014 Super Rugby season.

4. Stuart Hogg, Scotland

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    Scottish morale might have dangled slightly after it was announced that Tommy Seymour had been forced to withdraw from Stevie Gemmell's side through injury.

    However, it's no disappointing feat when a nation can call upon Stuart Hogg as a replacement, whose name needs no introduction ahead of a home Commonwealth Games.

    The Glasgow Warriors and British & Irish Lions star was named by BBC Sport as the man to fill in for Seymour, with Gemmell saying:

    It is disappointing to lose Tommy. However, I'm delighted to be able to bring in a player of Stuart Hogg's calibre. Stuart is somebody who has shown at every level of his XVs career what he is capable of.

    He is a player who excites fans and he has shown time and time again he can contribute significantly in both attack and defence. Though he has not yet played international sevens, he comes from a background in the Borders that has been heavily influenced by the abbreviated game.

    His game understanding, along with the skills he has developed as a professional, will prove a strong addition to our existing playing group.

    Having featured for Scotland's senior team on 24 occasions and helped the Warriors to a RaboDirect Pro12 final this season, Hogg is a tremendous athlete for his side to bring in.

    And with that being the case, his deft touch with the boot and ability to transition swiftly from defence into attack should mean that the lack of Sevens familiarity will only be an issue for so long, if at all.

5. Pita Ahki, New Zealand

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    Another Super Rugby star with a point to prove upon making his trip north of the equator is Blues utility Pita Ahki, fresh from a campaign in which he took his first senior steps as a senior figure in the 15-man trade.

    Last summer, the winger-cum-centre performed so well for North Harbour in the ITM Cup that his local province had little choice but to push him through their ranks, and his approach to the game is very well-suited to a Sevens impact, too.

    A combination of pace, handling and potent playmaking ability makes Ahki one of New Zealand's more dangerous threats, and one who played a part in the Rugby World Cup Sevens triumph last year.

    And he is grateful to Sir Gordon Tietjens for being handed another crack in the Sevens set-up, too, quoted by Yahoo! in saying:

    "DJ alluded that this is one of the pinnacle tournaments leading up to Rio. It's part of the journey, so it's pretty big. The silver fern, every time I get to wear it, it means a lot. It's special."

6. Charlie Hayter, England

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    England Sevens are yet to announce their finalised squad for the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, but after he signed a central contract with the organisation earlier this month, it's expected that Charlie Hayter will make the cut.

    Hayter has a previous relationship with head coach Simon Amor from their time together at Worcester Warriors several season ago, and when speaking to the official RFU website about his selection, the head coach said:

    Charlie has always been an excellent athlete, fast and physical, and I was delighted to see him make the step up to the Aviva Premiership with Wasps.  He is a great addition to the England Sevens programme and I am confident that sevens will also help develop his game should he return to the Premiership at a later date. 

    The FIRA tournaments and our intense training schedule ahead of the Commonwealth Games are really helping to embed him within the set up. He has been thrown in at the deep end but has all the raw materials to be a great player for us.  It is exciting that we are already seeing a sharp upward curve in his performance.

    Having spent some time away with Wasps, Hayter must once again change his mindset to become an England Sevens asset, but the central contract being offered at such a late stage is indicative of the faith held in his promise.

7. Bryan Habana, South Africa

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    Sevens fans near and far are praying that speculation is wrong on this occasion, with the opportunity of seeing Bryan Habana on the circuit simply too exciting to have taken away at such a late stage.

    The Toulon speedster has already been revealed as a surprise inclusion for South Africa this month, but SuperSport's Brenden Nel says that the Top 14 may pull rank on one of their marquee names being put at risk of injury.

    The French top flight have apparently proclaimed that Habana should be pulled out of the Commonwealth Games reckoning due to it falling within the European season's rest period.

    He, more so than just about anyone in this tournament, has a star bigger than any, and if Carlin Isles' speedy exploits for the USA in recent years have garnered attention, Habana's potential of being both a physical and technical menace burns even brighter.

8. Sean McMahon, Australia

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    Sean McMahon represents a more familiar face than the aforementioned Gill on the Sevens scene, having featured for the Wallabies in 2013 before shifting his priorities to Super Rugby.

    There, he's made strides within the Melbourne Rebels' camp this year, but head coach John will be pleased to have such a promising talent back under his command.

    McMahon captained the Australian under-20s at this summer's Junior World Championships, where they managed a fifth-place finish.

    His influence in Super Rugby circles would appear to have had an influence, too, considering it wasn't so long ago that the Rebels handed their young flanker a two-year extension at AAMI Park.

    The Commonwealth Games gives the back-row starlet a chance to maintain his fitness during the off-season, but he's got the potential to be so much more than just another body in the Australian line-up.

9. Declan O'Donnell, New Zealand

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    In 2011, Declan O'Donnell exploded into the Sevens environment as an electrifying force for New Zealand before he, like many others do, opted to follow up his reputation with a jaunt in the 15-a-side code.

    Featuring for Waikato in the ITM Cup and Super Rugby's Chiefs since then, the winger hasn't quite followed along the same trajectory, but then that would be asking a major amount of the 23-year-old.

    If Sevens is a code that requires a certain amount of pace on generally every player's behalf, O'Donnell has got that box ticked and then some.

    However, it's his jinking footwork that many will be most looking forward to see back within the genre that perhaps suits him best.

10. Schalk Brits, South Africa

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    And another powerhouse that South Africa may be fortunate enough to call upon this summer is Saracens' Schalk Brits, despite him featuring for Heyneke Meyer's XV-man side as recently as this summer.

    Nel of SuperSport claims that Brits has plans to feature for the team at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, and he supposedly sees the Commonwealth Games as his gateway to doing just that.

    As is the case with Habana, however, Brits may be pulled out by Premiership Rugby due to the Games clashing with their prescribed off-season, but the South African board will undoubtedly fight tooth and nail to keep their asset in-house.

    This season's run to the Premiership finals showcased just what an athlete Brits is, and while his duties may lie as a hooker in England, his all-round commitment should make him just as potent a threat in Sevens, too.