The world's best player (she's a Kiwi) and six more to watch at Sevens World Cup

Huriana Manuel and Tomasi Cama

A summer of football has come to an end but as one World Cup finishes, another begins.

The Rugby World Cup Sevens heads to San Francisco this weekend (20-22 July) and is set to serve up just as much drama as football’s version in Russia.

It’s a straight knockout format, with the men’s and women’s tournaments played side-by-side, and on show will be the “world’s best rugby player” in Portia Woodman.

Sevens guru Ben Ryan, who coached Fiji to their first ever Olympic gold medal at Rio 2016, tells BBC Sport his seven players to watch and who his picks are to take home the trophies.

1. Portia Woodman – New Zealand

Portia Woodman

The women’s tournament is straightforward – it’s a two-horse race between Australia and New Zealand. And it’s all about two players – Australia’s Charlotte Caslick and New Zealand’s Portia Woodman.

Woodman, 27, is the best player – men’s or women’s, sevens or XVs- in the world. She came from netball and was on the verge of a Silver Ferns call-up before switching sports when New Zealand Rugby launched a programme looking for female athletes to play sevens in Rio.

She is sublime. She’s powerful, got footwork, is an amazing defender and a brilliant thinker of the game. Any team that has Woodman in it are destined to win the title. On both sides of the ball, attack and defence, you don’t want to be anywhere near Woodman if you’re up against her.

It will be New Zealand for me, with Australia as runners-up.

2. Charlotte Caslick – Australia

Charlotte Caslick

Charlotte Caslick is the poster girl in Australia, she won Olympic gold in 2016 and has lifted women’s rugby sevens globally. The 23-year-old was the world sevens player of the year in 2016, has become the face of the game and is now being touted for a switch to rugby league.

She’s a very balanced footballer, can pass off either hand and she steps off either foot. Whenever the ball goes to her things happen, she can create the outside break and can finish off well. When she’s on form that Australia team ticks. If Charlotte’s playing well Australia will go deep into the World Cup.

3. Deborah Fleming – England

Deborah Fleming

England women haven’t done that well this year but Deborah Fleming has been an ever-present and one of their most consistent players all season. She was England’s highest points scorer in the 2018 Sevens World Series and can play in both the forwards or on the wing.

She’s powerful, a good product of the system and at 27 she’s going to be around for a while. I think if she can get the ball in space, they’ll get some good victories in San Francisco and they could certainly get to the semi-finals.

4. Semi Kunatani – Fiji

Semi Kunatani

In the men’s tournament you could name all 12 Fijians and six or seven that weren’t even selected as players to watch. Fiji look untouchable.

In Josua Tuisova, 24, Leone Nakarawa, 30, and Semi Radradra, 26, they’ve not only got three of the best sevens players in the world but they’re the best 15-a-side players in the world too.

Add to that another six Olympic gold medallists in their team and guys like Semi Kunatani, 27, and it’s theirs to lose.

Kunatani, or ‘The Beast’ as they call him, comes from a very small, poor village. His mum died when he was a baby and he was brought up by the village elders – his five surrogate mothers.

He singlehandedly took control of the Olympic final in 2016 but he’s so laid-back, he just does it when he wants. He’s almost untouchable in a team of untouchables. If he’s fit, he’ll stand out way above everyone else.

5. Werner Kok – South Africa

Werner Kok

For South Africa, Werner Kok epitomises their 100% application in everything they do. He covers the field like an advanced rash and he’s a pain to play against.

He’s got flowing golden locks, works hard and fights hard. He’s the heartbeat of the Blitzbokke, who last month secured back-to-back World Series titles, and if the 25-year-old is playing well South Africa will go far.

The World Cup may be behind Olympic glory and the World Series title in the sevens pecking order but a South African side full of confidence will certainly want to add this one to their list.

6. Luke Morgan and Alex Davis – Wales and England

Luke Morgan and Alex Davis

For the Home Nations, my picks would be two players who missed out on selection for Great Britain at the Rio Olympics through injury.

Wales have got a real flyer in winger Luke Morgan. He’s not the tallest of players at 5ft 8in (1.76m) but he’s got a lovely outside break and he’s just great to watch. The 26-year-old is Wales sevens’ all-time record try scorer and is returning to XVs rugby with the Ospreys next season – so he’ll want to go out with a bang.

England’s Alex Davis is another player who would’ve played for Great Britain but got injured in the week before the Olympics. He’s had a run of bad injuries over the years but suddenly he’s got himself fit and available.

Davis, 25, is not one of your star names with the likes of Tom Mitchell and Dan Norton, but he’s England’s glue and you can see on the field how much everyone respects him and wants him to do well. I’m really pleased for him and I think he could be a standout for England.

7. Perry Baker – United States

Perry Baker

Finally, I’m going with America’s Perry Baker, who was the 2017 world sevens player of the year. ‘Speedstick’ is his nickname because he’s tall and thin but absolutely rapid. He scores tries from anywhere and he’s the leading try-scorer in the world.

If America get at least 40% possession and the 32-year-old can get his hands on the ball half a dozen times during the games, then we could well see America pushing everyone else and getting their hands on the trophy on home soil come Sunday.

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BBC Sport – Rugby Union

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