THE COMMONWEALTH GAMES get underway with the opening ceremony in Glasgow this evening and provide rugby fans with a glimpse of what the Olympics Sevens will offer in 2016.
While sevens has been played at the Commonwealth Games since 1998 – when Jonah Lomu and Christian Cullen powered New Zealand to final victory over Waisale Serevi’s Fiji – next year will be the first time the sport is played at the Olympics.
There has been speculation that rugby union stars will be tempted to play in the 7-man code in Rio, with IRB CEO Brett Gosper having highlighted Israel Folau and Manu Tuilagi as top of the wishlist for a crossover.
With that in mind, it has been interesting to see a number of the nations in this summer’s Commonwealth Games include union players in their squads. There was speculation yesterday that Bryan Habana would play for South Africa, but he is only on the Blitzbokke‘s injury standby list.
Stuart Hogg – Scotland
The 22-year-old was understandably disappointed not to be included for Glasgow’s Pro12 final against Leinster at the end of last season, but showed his quality while on tour with Scotland this summer. His evasiveness will be essential for the home nation’s challenge. The British and Irish Lion will be making his international sevens debut at Ibrox.
Liam Gill – Australia
The 22-year-old would likely have more caps than 15 if he was from any nation other than Australia. Michael Hooper has been immovable at openside since David Pocock’s injury problems began, but Gill is a player of high quality. The Reds back row was part of Australia’s squad for the 2010 Games, winning a silver medal.
Cornal Hendricks – South Africa
The Cheetahs’ wing was a star of the sevens circuit in 2012 and was named South Africa’s Sevens Player of the Year in 2013. The 26-year-old subsequently earned a Super Rugby contract and scored six tries in 12 starts this year. In June, he started three Tests for the senior 15-a-side national team, dotting down twice against Wales.
Sean Lamont – Scotland
At 33, Lamont’s peak may behind him, but he has all the skills to thrive on his return to the sevens code. The Glasgow Warrior last played for Scotland Sevens in 2009, having also represented his country in the 2002 Commonwealth Games. His pace and power should make him a nightmare to tackle one-on-one.
Sean McMahon – Australia
An emerging star of Australian rugby, the 20-year-old made six Super Rugby starts under Tony McGahan at the Melbourne Rebels this season. The blindside flanker played at the Junior World Championship this summer, while he has lined out for his country on the IRB Sevens Series since 2011.
Pita Ahki – New Zealand
Kiwi coach Gordon Tietjens has hoped to have a number of Super Rugby stars available for the Games, but in the end Blues midfielder Ahki is the biggest name included. The 21-year-old scored two tries in his five Super Rugby starts for John Kirwan’s side this season, having played for New Zealand U20s and Tonga U20s in the past.
The preliminary rounds of the sevens competition kick off on the 26th of July at the Commonwealth Games.
Which players are you most excited to see in action at the Commonwealth Games Sevens?