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SBW at Rio would be ‘awesome’

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Rio 2016     27 May 2016     Getty Images

Speaking on Copacabana beach, Mikkelson said the two-time Rugby World Cup winner “can do stuff that no one in the team is able to do”.

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Williams started playing for the All Blacks sevens team in January and, in characteristic style, scored a try with his first touch of the ball.

Mikkelson, New Zealand's leading try-scorer in rugby sevens, was glowing in his praise for Williams. “He's very powerful and he can do stuff that no one in the team is able to do,” said Mikkelson, who has been in Rio this week on a reconnaissance mission. “He has also shown that he can make very big tackles. He's grown the game of rugby worldwide and it would be awesome to have in the squad.”

Williams stands a very good chance of making the team, according to Scott Curry, who captained the team before an injury led to him passing the leadership to Mikkelson. “Sonny Bill brings a lot of exposure and publicity to rugby,” said Curry, who was in Rio this week with Mikkelson. “He has shown that he is fully committed to sevens, he's learning fast and he will go really close to making the squad.”
The return of rugby to the Olympic Games is fast shaping up to be one of Rio 2016's most eagerly anticipated events. Curry, who is expected to regain the captaincy should he prove his fitness, said he expected a wide-open competition and a passionate crowd when the 12 teams go into battle for medals at the Deodoro Stadium. “As a rugby player I never dreamt I would have the chance to go to the Olympic Games,” he said. “I am pretty excited to be coming back in August and going for a gold medal.”

Mikkelson also showed his excitement at the prospect of becoming an Olympian: “It's huge to be in the Olympics,” he said. “It's the biggest sporting stage in the world.”

The traditional 15-a-side version of rugby, which is contested at the World Cup, was part of the 1900, 1908, 1920 and 1924 Olympic Games. The seven-a-side version of the game that will be played in Rio is renowned for exciting play, a carnival-like atmosphere in the stands and for giving smaller nations a chance to upset some of the sport’s superpowers.

Curry and Mikkelson visited Deodoro Olympic Park this week to look at the competition venue and the training pitches. Temporary stands, located close to the pitch, are now going up at the site, and Mikkelson said that having the crowd so close to the players should deliver an exciting atmosphere.
In the closing event of the World Rugby Sevens Series in London, the All Blacks Sevens were unexpectedly kicked out at the quarter-final stage by a rampant USA, usually an underdog. Rugby sevens is a much more open competition than the 15-a-side version of the sport, where a handful of teams dominate international events.

"Fiji are probably favourites in Rio," Curry said. "It's a different position for us to be in as we are normally the favourites."
Other sides to watch out for at Rio 2016 will be South Africa, Australia and Great Britain. Ireland, one of the strongest sides in the men's 15-a-side game, will have to win the repechage tournament in June to secure the 12th and final place available. 

In total sixteen sides will be competing for just one vacancy; favourites alongside Ireland include the powerful Pacific nations of Samoa and Tonga.

The men's repechage event will take place in Monaco on 18-19 June. The women's repechage tournament will be held in Dublin on 25-26 June. 

Sonny Bill’s sister Niall Williams is aiming to win a place in New Zealand's women's sevens team, who will also be among the favourites for gold at Rio 2016. The draw for the men's and women's groups in the Olympic Games will take place at the end of June.

This article was first published at: www.rio2016.com