With the Olympics in July and Rugby World Cup in September/October, it leaves a window just about large enough for players to prepare exclusively for 15s after the Games finish.
Some have decided to focus on one format over the other, while for others the unique double challenge of going for gold on two counts is one that excites them.
We select some of the stars of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series who are likely to make a big impact in the longer form of the game in New Zealand.
Stacey Fluhler (New Zealand)
Stacey Fluhler has seized her moment in the limelight brought about by a couple of injury-plagued years for Portia Woodman. The North Islander was bang in form when COVID-19 forced a premature end to the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2020, topping the try-scoring charts with 31 – five more than her nearest rival, Australia’s Ellia Green. The last time Fluhler played in the Black Ferns 15s jersey was when they lost to France in the 2018 end of year tour. She wants redemption and to back up her first Rugby World Cup 2017 title. One of the ‘Unstoppables’ in World Rugby’s campaign to promote women in rugby, the Black Ferns star is one of a select few to have won Rugby World Cups in sevens and 15s.
Karen Paquin (Canada)
A special talent who brings so much to the Canadian team in both formats of the game. A flanker in 15s, Paquin’s work-rate around the field is phenomenal and belies her advancing years. Now 33 but still going strong on the world series since she returned after a three-year absence in 2019, the Olympic bronze medallist will be hoping to complete a hat-trick of Rugby World Cup tournaments in New Zealand next year. She helped Canada to the final at France 2014 and then appeared again in Ireland in 2017, where she scored in consecutive games against Wales and Australia.
Alev Kelter (USA)
Kelter was an integral part of the USA Women’s Eagles Sevens team that finished a historic second on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series in 2019 and that form continued into this season with some stellar performances. When the series was cut short five tournaments in, Kelter was sat proudly at the top of the point-scoring charts with 171 to her name. The tough-tackling Alaskan is equally adept at 15s, amassing 32 points as a goal-kicking centre at Rugby World Cup 2017, before going on to play a starring role for the Eagles in last year’s Women’s Rugby Super Series.
Marjorie Mayans (France)
Mayans has regularly switched between 15s and sevens, with her adaptability seeing her play in the forwards and backs for Les Bleues – at flanker and centre. The 29-year-old became France’s most-capped sevens player earlier this season when she appeared at her 34th tournament in Sydney and her decision to pass up on a second Olympic Games to concentrate on Rugby World Cup 2021 will be keenly felt in Tokyo. Nicknamed ‘Queen of the tackle’, Mayans is an immensely powerful player who can be destructive in both attack and defence.
Sharni Williams (Australia)
Williams will be 33 by the time the Olympics and Rugby World Cup 2021 take place next year, but the Australian is planning on appearing in both events. A natural leader, Williams led Australia to gold medals at Rio 2016 and to a second HSBC World Rugby Women’s Series title in 2018 and is their most-capped women’s sevens player after playing in her 35th tournament in Sydney in February. Twice this season she has been named in the HSBC Dream Team, in Dubai and Cape Town. For someone who has played in three previous Rugby World Cups, the transition back to her 15s roots should be seamless.
Rusila Nagasau (Fiji)
The prospect of playing in Fiji’s first Rugby World Cup will be a tantalising one for a player who last made a big impression in all formats of the game, as a captain and a player in her own right. Nagasau scored twice against Tonga on her Fijiana 15s debut in October 2018 and played in both matches against Samoa the following year as Fiji created history in qualifying for New Zealand 2021. The livewire back has already competed at two Rugby World Cup Sevens, in 2013 and 2018, as well as the 2016 Olympic Games and became only the second player from Fiji to clock up 30 series tournament appearances in Sydney in February. One of Fiji’s trump cards, Nagasau is a hard runner with the handling skills we’ve come to expect from Fijians.
Zenay Jordaan (South Africa)
At only 29, Jordaan has featured in two Rugby World Cups and three Rugby World Cup Sevens – and is now gearing up to appear in her sixth major tournament in New Zealand. The chance to emulate the men’s Springboks and win a Rugby World Cup is one that still excites her, though. With a career spanning 15 years and including some unforgettable moments, Jordaan can lay claim to being South Africa’s greatest-ever female player. What she lacks for in size (Jordaan is 1.55m), the playmaker more than makes up for it in spirit, skills and professionalism.