The USA Sevens squad for the 2016 Olympics has been announced, featuring a great mix of star power, experience and a whole lot of speed to burn. Here is a look at three players who we think will give the USA their very best chance of defending that Olympic Gold medal in rugby.
To an already successful side, who finished 6th on the HSBC World Series this year, have been added Saracen’s utility back Chris Wyles and back-rower Andrew Durutalo, who has played for the Sunwolves in Super Rugby this season.
The speed merchants that are Carlin Isles and Perry Baker have both made the squad alongside stalwarts of the side Danny Barrett, Garrett Bender, Zack Test and captain Madison Hughes.
Nate Ebner, of the New England Patriot’s, is the headline selection after transitioning to Sevens quickly enough to make the plane to Rio.
Although the USA have the world’s premier side Fiji in their group, alongside a talented Argentina side and hosts Brazil, they will be confident of getting out of the group stages.
The top two teams from each group go through alongside the two best third place teams from the three groups. The incredible physical ability of the USA’s athlete’s means that they can beat anyone on their day. They are perfectly suited to knockout rugby.
USA MEN’S SQUAD:
Perry Baker, Danny Barrett, Garrett Bender, Andrew Duratolo, Nate Ebner, Madison Hughes, Carlin Isles, Folau Niua, Ben Pinkelman, Zack Test, Maka Unufe, Chris Wyles.
Below is a look at three players who will be crucial in the USA’s attempt for gold.
The 32 year-old will bring great experience to the USA team. Wyles has made over 50 appearances for USA in the fifteen aside game as well as 200 appearances for Saracens.
He has been a key cog in the Saracens’ machine over the last few years with his ability to play fullback, wing and centre proving invaluable. He played on the Seven’s circuit for the USA from 2007 to 2009 and therefore, although he will be rusty, he is no novice to Sevens at the highest level.
Wyles is a potent finisher who scored 13 tries in the 2014/15 Premiership season making him joint second top try scorer in the league as well as scoring two tries at the 2015 World Cup.
The former USA captain played in the last qualifier for Rio but has otherwise been limited in his Seven’s appearances this season. Nevertheless, the quality he brings in both attack and defence make him crucial for the USA.
Ebner is a Super Bowl winning New England Patriot who is contracted to the NFL side. However Ebner’s background is in rugby and not American football. As a child he played rugby and only took up American football at college by which time he had already represented USA Sevens as well as junior USA fifteen aside teams.
His transition to American Football was so successful at Ohio State University that he was picked up by the New England Patriots in the 2012 draft. Ebner has therefore returned to rugby rather than having had to learn the game in a short period of time.
He performed well in Singapore and Paris which was enough to convince Coach Mike Friday to select the special teams player.
Although his performances on the pitch will be important, the story and focus that Ebner will bring to rugby in the US is vitally important.
The inclusion of Sevens in the Olympics has already intensified the spotlight on rugby but his selection is likely to intrigue football fans in to watching the spectacle. Ebner will play as a forward but with a 40 yard time of 4.48, he has the athleticism to be a danger with ball in hand.
Ebner is in the phenomenal position of having a genuine opportunity to add an Olympic medal to a Super Bowl ring, after winning the Super Bowl with the Patriots in 2014.
Isles has been dubbed ‘The fastest man in rugby’ after the scintillating pace that he has demonstrated on the Sevens scene. The former sprinter was sensational initially, creating a real buzz around Sevens. However his form then dipped and he became overshadowed by the USA’s other lightning quick player, Perry Baker.
Injuries have limited Isles’ 2016 season and an attempt to test out his chances of returning to sprinting has affected his game time.
However Isles’ aim from the start of joining rugby was to go to the Olympics and to go for gold. He has now been granted that opportunity. Isles will surely raise his game to the occasion that Rio 2016 will present.
He is a fan favourite and can do things on the pitch that no one else will be able to do. If Isles is performing well, in tandem with Baker, the USA have a great chance. Their ability to score from their own 22, and from positions of seemingly little attacking potential, are unrivalled.
This is largely due to the pace and agility of ‘The fastest man in rugby’.