The IRB website has picked Fiji’s Joji Raqamate plus 9 other players to shine in the Moscow 7s RWC this weekend.
1. Joji Raqamate – Fiji
Raqamate has really burst onto the stage this year with some brilliant match-winning performances, including a telling contribution as the Fijians won the first Cup title of the season on the Gold Coast and he has carried on in similar vein, scoring and making tries just as Waisale Serevi did before him. The way he runs is also reminiscent of Neumi Nanuku at his best – a joy to watch.
2. Vasily Artemyev – Russia
A full-time pro with Northampton Saints in England, Artemyev learnt his rugby in Ireland with Blackrock and Leinster as a teenager and as a result he speaks very good English with a faint Irish-Russian accent. His rugby is probably even better, though, and on his return to the side in Glasgow and London in the Series he was the stand-out player for the Russians. Powerful with the ball in hand and deceptively quick, he has plenty of experience and is a proven try-scorer.
3. Ryno Benjamin, South Africa
One of four ’15s’ players drafted back in by coach Paul Treu, Benjamin could be a match-winner for the Blitzbokke if he’s fit and Sevens-sharp. The fact that Treu left out players like Kankowski and Basson – presumably not quite up to the pace of Sevens – but opted to bring back big wing Benjamin would suggest that he has impressed in training and that would be very good news for Springbok fans. A key man in South Africa’s World Series-winning year in 2008/09, he will need to adapt back quickly to the culture of the team but should slot right back in.
4. Bernard Foley, Australia
Impressive as starting fly half recently for the Waratahs against the British and Irish Lions, Foley is one man Michael O’Connor was very keen to draft back into his squad for Moscow. Well versed in the nuances of Sevens, Foley should fit easily back in and his experience, alongside the likes of James Stannard and fit-again captain Ed Jenkins, will be a major plus in what is still a young side.
5. Carlin Isles – USA
Sprinter Isles burst onto the scene at the start of the season with a personal best over 100 metres of 10.13 seconds but only three months of rugby experience. Between then and now he has lost none of his frightening pace but has added considerable game sense, although he still operates largely as an impact sub off the bench in the second half. Expect the turf to light up when he runs.
6. Tim Mikkelson – New Zealand
Mikkelson’s outstanding consistency and overall qualities as a leading Sevens player epitomise New Zealand. A big wing in 15s, he operates selflessly in the scrum in Sevens and led the team impeccably in DJ Forbes’ injury-enforced absence for the climax of the World Series. A popular tourist, he has been a part of Gordon Tietjens’ side for several years. Watch out for his workrate both on and off the ball. Another kiwi to watch out for is young playmaker Gillies Kaka, whose impact has been remarkable in his first season.
7. Dan Norton – England
As a team, England may not have had the best of seasons on the World Series but Norton’s workrate seldom dipped and his clinical finishing and pace is well documented. He has added more defensive quality to his game to match an almost unparalleled ability to beat men on the outside, as well as working on his kicking game, which he also uses to good effect. The top scorer on the World Series by some distance with 52 from second-placed Cornal Hendricks, who also deserves mention, it will be good to see Norton combine with a fit-again Tom Mitchell out wide.
8. John Moonlight, Canada
Moonlight has earned rave reviews for Keiran Crowley’s Canada team in the Pacific Nations Cup recently and over the course of the HSBC Sevens World Series he was one of the stand-out players in a very assured season, in which the Canadians managed to retain core team status. Nathan Hirayama, Sean Duke, Ciaran Hearn, Phil Mack and Taylor Paris offer the class in the backline, but, alongside his captain Nanyak Dala, Moonlight is one of the unsung heroes up front.
9. Willie Ambaka – Kenya
Dubbed ‘Kenya’s Lomu’, Ambaka was in the forwards when Mike Friday arrived as head coach and his decision to move the gentle giant into the centre and wing positions has proved inspired. His was the telling performance when Kenya reached the Cup final in Wellington of this season’s Series, beating New Zealand in the semis, and he was also a big factor in the other three semi finals the Kenyans have reached this season. A massive breakthrough year for the young man who is just one part of a strong side featuring the likes of Oscar Ouma and brothers Humphrey Kayange and Collins Injera.
10. Lee Williams – Wales
The only one of the reigning Rugby World Cup Sevens champions from four years ago here to tell the tale, Williams is still going strong as a playmaker and is a key man for Wales. Most of what they do goes through him and his is the rugby brain that delivers much of coach Paul John’s tactics and game plan. In that regard, there is a lot riding on him as the Welsh set out to defend their World title.