Thursday, March 20, 2014

Players to Watch for Tokyo 7s

Tokyo 7s is this weekend and the iRB has a preview of players to watch. Leading into Hong Kong 7s, which also has a women's invitational that we'll post about in the coming days, this is a thrilling week we have ahead!

Starmers: Seven stars to watch in Tokyo

(IRB.COM) Tuesday 18 March 2014
 Starmers: Seven stars to watch in Tokyo
Star quality: Zack Test is the go-to man in the USA Sevens squad
Television broadcaster Nigel Starmer-Smith picks seven players to watch out for at the sixth round of the HSBC Sevens World Series in Tokyo.
Amidst all the talent of the All Blacks Sevens, it must be Tim Mikkelson who is the most important to Gordon Tietjens. A big man, he has exceptional versatility as a prop, a brilliant midfield centre or wing in Sevens. First selected by Tietjens in George seven years ago, he's since played 45 tournaments, mostly as a forward, and scored 130 tries. He has a large stride, deceptive pace and his strength makes him difficult to get hold of in the tackle. Still only 27 years old, you can guarantee he'll be in the mix for the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. 

There are some exceptionally promising talents among Ben Ryan's Fiji squad with Samisoni Viriviri, Benito Masilevu or Semi Kunatani shining examples, but Emosi Mulevovo, with eight tournaments to his name, is already destined to be an outstanding star. His first appearance was last year in Hong Kong, where the Fijians won. He was dropped soon after by Alifereti Dere but Ryan recalled him, having recognised a quality scrum-half in 15s. He has blinding acceleration from a standing start, magnificent skills and the pace of William Ryder. He's also a competent goal-kicker, with 33 conversions this season. 

Only Ben Gollings has played more Sevens tournaments than James Rodwell, who has grown further in stature this season. Seldom does he miss the ball at England's line-out and he also has deceptive power and pace and is strong in the tackle. First selected by Ben Ryan at Murrayfield in 2008, he has played each year since, scoring 65 tries in 48 tournaments. 

This is not a favour to my friendly Australian co-commentator, Greg Clark and father of Cameron! In fact his 20-year-old son is fast becoming a top player amongst not only the Australian squad but the Series as a whole. Based as a young man in the Northern Suburbs club of Sydney, he was spotted by coach Michael O'Connor two years ago as a long and lean speedster with raw potential. Injury kept him on the sidelines earlier this season but he's recovered to play a starring role, not just with his tries but also his vital goal-kicking. 

FRANKIE HORNE - South Africa
There may be more glamorous greyhounds in the South African squad - indeed no shortage of spectacular sprinters - but for years now Horne has provided them with the ball, and with remarkable regularity. First selected in Dubai in 2007, big Frankie has played every single World Series tournament since that day - only cruelly missing out on the World Cup in Moscow in June. Otherwise he has proved unstoppable: no injury, never dropped, never missed a tournament in 55 events - remarkable! A rugged forward, strong, very physical, 16 and a half stone but no slouch! Time and again he wins the ball, has handling skills and also averages almost a try every tournament. 

DIEGO PALMA - Argentina
It's quite a long time since Argentina won their last Cup title in Sevens, back in San Diego in 2009. Back then they had the likes of Lucio Lopez Fleming, Pablo and Santiago Gomez Cora and co. None remain now, although Santiago is now in his first season as coach for the Pumas and one senses that his squad is certainly advancing, with wins over Samoa, England and a loss to New Zealand by just one try. Captain Nicolas Bruzzone is missing, but Diego Palma from Club Pucara, Buenos Aires, is rapidly becoming their go-to man, with 26 tournaments and 62 tries to his name. Still only 25 years-old, Palma first made his name as a 19-year-old at the IRB Junior World Championship in 2008 and he continues to impress. With Palma, Gaston Revol, Facundo Garrido and six promising newcomers this season, Argentina may well once again threaten the top teams. 

For all the talk of Carlin Isles, the best player in the US squad by quite some distance is this man, Zack Test. He may not have the raw pace of former sprinter Isles, now in Glasgow, but Test - another former gridiron player - has fantastic game awareness, a rugby brain and will run and run. Like Mikkelson, he can play across the forwards in Sevens or out wide in any of the outside back positions. A rare rugby jewel in America's crown. 

Honourable mentions must go to Canada forwards John Moonlight and Nanyak Dala, both huge so far this season, and to Samoan veteran Alatasi Tupou, who will rack up his 50th tournament cap in Tokyo, if selected. A lot has been written, too, about Japan's newcomer Lomano Lemeki, who has taken the Asian Series by storm but is yet to compete at this elevated level. With Japan also going for Series promotion next weekend in Hong Kong, it promises to be quite a weekend for them on home soil!

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