A cut above the rest

(IRB.COM) Thursday 14 August 2008
By Nigel Starmer-Smith
 A cut above the rest
Can Samoa captain Uale Mai win a second Sevens Player of the Year award?

The nominations were announced earlier this week for the IRB Junior and Sevens Player of the Year. Two shortlists of three outstanding talents, all of whom excelled within their peer group in either the IRB Sevens World Series or the Junior World Championship. Nigel Starmer-Smith commentated for television


The finest Junior talent in the world

New Zealand were simply a class apart in Wales at the Junior World Championship. This was the squad that had, almost in its entirety, won the Under 19 World Championship a year ago at a canter and here again nobody really got near them, so inevitably the selections for the Player of the Tournament and Year were bound to come largely from that New Zealand squad.

Appropriately the first name is that of Chris Smith the captain, who also led the Under 19s to their triumph. He was the cornerstone as towering second row forward, very impressive throughout the whole tournament, very mature and a natural leader. It's no wonder that he's been snapped up by the Auckland Blues already.

The forwards were the main way in which New Zealand were able to dominate so readily and the second nominee also comes from that eight - flanker Luke Braid. Absolutely outstanding as an Under 19 and not 20 until this coming October, he is a flanker out of the old school in a way.

I'm not sure whether he'll survive in the senior game to the same extent because he's more like Neil Back or a Jean-Pierre Rives - fast but not so big. I hope he survives because he's an absolutely outstanding ball player and he's got a real creative element too.

In all honesty you could have picked almost half of that side. Ben Afeaki and Rodney Ah-You were massive in the front row and outside in the backs you had Ryan Crotty and Trent Renata, both lovely players, and a winger who was absolutely brilliant in Kade Poki, but the third nomination came from England.

I was really impressed by Joe Simpson. I hadn't seen much of him before and he was a revelation. One of these snappy scrum halfs, great on the break, very confident, good service, did all the right things and to shine in a tournament and particularly in a final when you lose 38-3 is something special. He did stand out, he's a class act and I think England will be well served at scrum half with him.

Three from Sevens heaven

Interesting selections here - three real Sevens specialists, which I think shows that Sevens is not at all the same game as fifteens. These three are probably not ever going to be great fifteens players but in Sevens they are sheer world class.

The man who made it all happen for New Zealand again was DJ Forbes, the captain. He's as delightful off the field as he is effective on it. With ball-winning key to winning Sevens I think from start to finish he just showed what an influential figure he is. A tour de force throughout the season, he's also gelled their team as leader. He always seems to lead by example and do the right thing.

It's not often you see a player who instinctively knows what to do in a given situation, but Samoa captain Uale Mai continues to perform wonderfully well, having passed the grand old age of 30. Mai has wonderful rugby vision, a rugby brain made for Sevens. Fifty-four tournaments he's now played, surpassing Amasio Valence Raoma, 1002 points and also one of the two team captains who managed to beat New Zealand at one point in the season and lift a trophy, at Twickenham.

He's so consistently good, the IRB Sevens Player of the Year two years ago and he's kept up that remarkable form. When Samoa are doing well he is the man who's making it all happen.

And finally Fabian Juries, another who's reached the ripe old age of 30. A slight build, a wonderfully athletic runner to watch. Another one who will probably never be picked up in the Super 14s but the top scorer this season with 41, 173 in all in Sevens and a joy to watch.

Serevi returns

It's a remarkably talented three but no Fijian in there and Waisale Serevi has of course been brought back into the fold as coach. Some people are born as winners and Serevi has always had that gilt-edged touch. We've seen that quite remarkably as a player for 20 years, we then realised that he could do it as part coach and player, and now we'll see as coach.

Clearly he's got the magic touch and he may have fallen out of favour but I think the popular demand helped bring him back and I think that the man who has written Sevens success all through his career can turn them back that way. They need a leader, more than anyone Fiji need discipline on and off the field for it to happen, and I think Serevi coming back is the man who can make it happen. I don't think New Zealand will be too pleased because he's the man they fear the most."