While it will be fascinating to watch how Rugby World Cup 2019 stars like Samu Kerevi and Semi Radradra transfer their skills in 15s to rugby sevens at the Olympics, there is so much talent in all of the squads it would be wrong to focus entirely on those perceived to be the ‘household’ names.
In our list of players to watch at Tokyo, choosing five from the men’s and five from the women’s competitions, we’ve gone for a mix of young players who are ready to take the Olympics by storm, some with perhaps a point to prove and others who are simply just too good to ignore!
Jordan Conroy, Ireland men
Reckoned to be as quick as the USA speed duo, Carlin Isles and Perry Baker, the German-born Dubliner was top try-scorer on the shortened HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2020 with 30 tries to his name and was again in prolific finishing form in Ireland’s repechage win. Conroy’s almost telepathic understanding with Terry Kennedy has been instrumental in Ireland’s rise up the ranks.
Shannon Izar, France women
One of the many Les Bleues players comfortable switching from one format of the game to the other. Izar has appeared in four Rugby World Cups, two in 15s and two in sevens, and is brilliant at offloading or staying in the fight in the tackle with her strong hand-off.
Jas Joyce, Great Britain women
The only non-English player in the Team GB squad at Rio 2016, Joyce has played at the highest level for Wales in both 15s and sevens. An instinctive player blessed with pace and a real eye for the try-line, she will be hungry to show how much she has improved over the last five years.
Matías Osadczuk, Argentina men
The 24-year-old could do no wrong in 2020, finishing as Los Pumas Sevens’ top try-scorer and delivering on the promise he showed in his youth when nominated for World Rugby’s Sevens Rookie of the Year award. A torn cruciate ligament checked his progress but he bounced back from that setback and is now one of the most dangerous players in the game.
JC Pretorius, South Africa men
With no Rosko Specman and Seabelo Senatla in Tokyo, the onus will be on other individuals to stand up and be counted and no-one will work harder than JC Pretorius to make this a successful Games for the Blitzboks. The formidable forward hit the ground running on his World Series debut in Sydney in 2019 and hasn’t looked back since.
Ariana Ramsey, USA women
Still only 21 and yet to appear on the World Series, Ramsey has already been touted as “the future of American rugby” by her sevens programme manager, Emilie Bydwell. Ramsey has the exuberance of youth and the pace and explosiveness of a track athlete. Watch her tear it up in Tokyo!
Ethan Waddleton, Great Britain men
Great Britain do not possess a lot of size in their squad but silver medal-winning coach Simon Amor reckons Waddleton is the best in the business at the breakdown and really difficult to shift when he is on the ball. The 24-year-old hooker was unfortunate to miss RWC Sevens 2018 through injury so will be massively up for this Olympic Games.
Jiuta Wainiqolo, Fiji men
Having switched over from 15s, the 22-year-old impressed as Fiji swept all before them to win the Oceania Sevens on the eve of the Olympics. His exceptional running game and ability to beat defenders has earned him a move to Top 14 French giants Toulon for the 2021/22 season.
Portia Woodman, New Zealand women
Her first name sounds like a sports car and the Black Ferns Sevens star can certainly shift. Woodman goes into the Tokyo Games having been voted in as World Rugby’s Women’s Sevens Player of the Decade. No pressure then!
Woodman has won a 15s Rugby World Cup, a Rugby World Cup Sevens and a Commonwealth Games gold medal. But it was her sin-binning in the Rio final that arguably cost New Zealand Olympic gold. She’ll be determined to put the record straight.
Elena Zdrokova, Russian Olympic Committee women
The super-quick Zdrokova scored nine tries at the women’s repechage in Monaco and has been a key player for Russia in their domination of European women’s sevens over the last few years.
A beautifully balanced runner, Zdrokova once grew up dreaming to be a ballet dancer but now she’s happy leaving defenders in a spin. “For me, rugby is a form of choreography!” she said.