‘If you’re good enough, you’re old enough’ is a familiar sporting phrase but it was particularly apt when applied to the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2021 and the Fast Four competitions that took place earlier this month in Vancouver and Edmonton.
Over half of the players who took to the field for the opening tournament at BC Place were making their Series debuts, with some of them born this side of the Millennium, while the women’s Fast Four tournament was an equally useful vehicle in blooding young talent.
Here we pick out seven players who took the opportunity given to them with both hands.
Brennig Prevost (Canada, 23)
Filling the boots of Series legend Nathan Hirayama is no easy task but Canadian new boy Prevost took to the playmaker role superbly.
Prevost showed real composure for someone playing on the Series for the first time and top-scored over the two tournaments with 62 points.
Canada’s place in the Edmonton semi-finals was down to the former U20 player’s crucial, last-minute touchline conversion – one of 21 he managed across the two weekends. The DHL Impact moment handed the hosts a dramatic, 14-12 win against Ireland.
Chris Umeh (Germany, 20)
Umeh was used as a replacement throughout the two tournaments but he’ll be pressing for a place in Germany’s starting seven next year after his heroics in the fifth-place play-off against USA in Edmonton.
With the scores tied at 19-19 in stoppage time, the strapping 20-year-old miraculously prevented Naima Fuala'au from grounding the ball as he reached out to score, stealing possession from him centimetres above the line. Then, in golden-point extra-time, he came up with the try that settled the match.
Max Denmark (Hong Kong, 22)
The physically imposing back has been on the scene for a few years now but he experienced the Series for the first time in Vancouver and Edmonton.
An ever-present in the starting line-up over the two weekends, Denmark scored five tries at each event and was the heartbeat of the Hong Kong side throughout, none more so than in the 21-14 win over Ireland in Edmonton that clinched a second consecutive fifth place for Paul John’s team.
Shane Jennings (Ireland, 20)
Connacht Rugby have a good one on their hands.
Jennings, who plays centre in 15s, looks to have the potential to be the best midfield talent in Ireland since Garry Ringrose first laced up his boots.
While Jamaica were not the strongest opposition, his try against the Crocs in Edmonton took some scoring. Receiving the ball 75 metres out, the strapping, flame-haired Jennings stepped inside one man, outpaced another and then gathered in his own kick ahead, while under pressure from two defenders, to score an absolute belter.
That was just one of many memorable moments from the man with no previous Series experience.
Muller du Plessis (South Africa, 22)
Overshadowed by 10-try Angelo Davids in Vancouver, Du Plessis more than made up for his fellow winger’s absence in Edmonton.
He became the first Blitzboks player to score 11 tries in a single Series tournament since Seabelo Senatla achieved the feat in Dubai in 2016.
Unsurprisingly that earned the deadly finisher a place on the fans’ Edmonton Dream Team, an accolade he’d received in Vancouver in 2020.
David Still (USA, 23)
Disregard his name, this is a player in perpetual motion.
Still (no pun intended, on this occasion) only a year into his rugby career, the 23-year-old scored on his Series debut against Chile and looked dangerous whenever he had ball in hand.
He signed off in Vancouver with another try against Canada and then crossed twice against Spain in Edmonton.
There should be plenty more to come from the former College American Football player.
Grace Crompton (Great Britain, 19)
While everyone was rightly raving about Jasmine Joyce in Canada, Bristol Bears teammate and fellow winger Grace Crompton also made a big impact in the Fast Four competitions.
The 19-year-old University of Bath second-year student matched Joyce’s tally of six tries in Vancouver, including one in the final against USA, and crossed for three more in Edmonton.
A Series debut is surely only just around the corner.
Olivia Apps (Canada, 22)
Canada’s captain for the Fast Four tournaments really came to the fore with a string of influential performances.
A skilled allrounder, Apps was the heartbeat of the host team, mixing up her strong running game with some deft distribution skills.
Apps’ kicking wasn’t bad either with eight conversions to go with the three tries she managed across both events.