Marcus Watson and Ruaridh McConnochie understand what it takes to excel at the Olympic Games, having helped Great Britain’s men to a silver medal at Rio 2016.
The pair possess fond memories of their time in Brazil, where Great Britain beat New Zealand, Argentina and South Africa en route to a final defeat against Fiji.
Following the gold medal match, McConnochie, Watson and their team-mates were also able to rub shoulders with some of the most famous athletes on the planet, from Usain Bolt to Andy Murray and Serena Williams.
“The experience in general, just the Olympics, was insane,” Watson told World Rugby. “It was like a human Jurassic Park.”
England’s victory at the Rugby Europe Men’s Sevens Olympic Qualifying Tournament 2019 means that Great Britain will once again be among the teams competing for gold in Tokyo this July.
And, as attention turns towards the Olympic Games in Japan, who better to ask about the players who could catalyse Great Britain’s push for another men’s sevens medal?
Who are Great Britain’s most important men’s players?
McConnochie: Two that had a massive role in my development on and off the field and were big stars in that last one, Tom Mitchell and Dan Norton. Tom is a seriously, seriously good leader. His knowledge of the game is great, he sets the example for everything. He raises the bar for every fitness challenge there is, and he's just got a great mind for the game.
And then Dan, who is probably in his — he'll say it himself — the twilight of his career, getting to the end of it, but is still just as good as he was five years ago. I think he'd even say he's probably improved his game over the last few years. Just as more wingers are getting quicker out there, he’s got to think of other ways to beat people. So, I think those two are big ones.
Watson: The obvious one is Dan Norton, I agree as well. He's a game winner and when he's on good form, I don't think there's anyone on the sevens circuit that matches him, to be honest, as he is just an absolute freak. It's so nice playing with him when he's in good form, you just pass him the ball and you know what's going to happen. So, if he can be in good form for the Olympics it's huge for Great Britain.
To pick out somebody else is quite difficult because there's not been a circuit… but the other person that really comes to mind is Tom Mitchell. Being captained by him for a couple of years, he's such a good captain and I think with how this year's gone in terms of teams not being able to play together, I don't think there's too many captains I could think of who would be able to bring a group together better than he will.
And, I think that's going to be really important for an Olympics where boys have not played for a long time. Also, he's an incredible rugby player, such a good leader, decision maker.
Who could make an impact as a ‘bolter’ from the 15s game?
McConnochie: I'd love to see Justin Tipuric in there, and I'd probably want to see my (Bath) team-mate Anthony Watson. Tipuric, obviously you see how good he is as a seven and around the ball and his contact skills. But, actually he's such a skilful player, he’s fast. He came in for the Commonwealth Games in 2018. I remember watching him there, and just having him on their side made Wales look much more of a threatening side. They almost beat Fiji that tournament, who just lost to New Zealand in the final.
Anthony, probably just [because of] his ability to beat people one-on-one, it obviously helps his speed's there. Probably the fact that I've never seen him play sevens intrigues me more than anything, although I'm not sure his lungs would like it!
Watson: The first one that comes to mind, who obviously plays at Wasps, who is incredible at sevens, really fit, is Ben Vellacott. I think he'd be able to get his fitness up. He might not even need too much, because he’s a physical freak. Amazing footwork, rapid, very professional. So he'd be able to get himself in order pretty quickly.
Sam Simmonds would be pretty awesome. I actually remember before he started playing so well for Exeter in the first team, he played in the Premiership Rugby Sevens and was really, really good in that. I don't know what his fitness is like or anything like that, but he looks like he's in pretty good shape. So, I don't think it would be too difficult for him and physically, he's definitely got the capabilities to go pretty well. He could be a turnover guy and you could have him easily on the wings and beating people with his power and speed. So I'd like to see him in sevens.
Marcus, do you agree your brother Anthony would be a success in sevens?
Watson: There's no doubt he's got the skill set for it. I'd be interested to know what position he'd play because I think he could probably play a couple, to be honest. I think he could play centre, he could probably play prop and he'd be able to do a job on the wing as well.
Also, he’s tall and very solid under the high ball. [Because of] how important some of the kick-offs are, you almost sometimes have players designated to do that, and he'd be very useful for that, too. I don't want to talk him up too much because I'm giving him a big wrap, but he's difficult to tackle one-on-one. And that's what sevens is all about. So, yeah, I'd like to see him on there.
Fitness would be a work-on for him. When I first started playing sevens, I was wondering if he'd be interested to do it and us play together, which would be pretty cool, and I remember him just saying the fitness would be too much for him at that stage. But, now I think he'd be fine, he’s very professional and if he sets his mind to it, he'd be absolutely fine.