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At the end of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2016-17, the teams all gathered at Twickenham to celebrate another enthralling season.
It's been a season where South Africa won five of the eight finals they contested, Canada claimed their first ever Cup title in Singapore, Scotland defended their London crown and England and Olympic champions Fiji also lifted silverware.
What a way to celebrate as sevens kicked on from its debut at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
The end of season function was a chance to celebrate the players, the coaches and the team personnel that are the ambassadors and role models of the sport, and here we give the lowdown on the evening’s events.
HSBC Dream Team: For the fifth year an HSBC Dream Team was named which took into consideration players’ performances across the season and previous nominations in the individual tournament dream teams. Series champions South Africa have two players, in Chris Dry and Rosko Specman, with Fiji, USA and England the other nations represented. Dry is joined in the forwards by Fiji’s Kalione Nasoko, a nominee for Rookie of the Year, and Danny Barrett of the USA. Fijian maestro Jerry Tuwai joins Specman, 2016-17 series top try scorer Perry Baker and Dan Norton, who became the all-time leading try-scorer in series history in Hong Kong.
Rookie of the Year: The three previous winners have been Ambrose Curtis, Jerry Tuwai and Henry Hutchison. This year the nominees were Argentina’s Matías Osadczuk, Nasoko and New Zealand’s Vilimoni Koroi. Twenty-year-old Osadczuk was chosen by the TV commentators to receive the award after a debut season that saw him score 26 tries in 36 matches before injury ended his season in Hong Kong. That injury meant that Osadczuk wasn’t in London to accept his award, but his coach and sevens legend Santiago Gomez Cora accepted on his behalf. “I am very proud of Matias and the team as well. He got injured in Hong Kong but it’s pleasing for us to develop young players like Matias as it is good for our union and for our rugby.”
DHL Impact Player Award: The race to be named DHL Impact Player of the Year went right down to the very last match of the series with Wales captain Sam Cross pipping Norton to the award by a single point. Across the series, Cross made 101 tackles, 29 breaks, 63 offloads and 166 carries for a total of 359 points. The Olympic silver medallist paid tribute to his team-mates, before admitting “the statistics kind of suit my game and the way I play.”
TAG Heuer Don't Crack Under Pressure Award: An award voted for by fans went to England captain Tom Mitchell for his coolness in the pressure cooker of a Cup quarter-final with Scotland in Dubai. He turned down the conversion attempt to Ollie Lyndsay-Hague’s try, knowing England still needed to score again to win and time was running out. The decision paid off as they scored through Ruaridh McConnochie to win 24-21. “To be honest I didn’t fancy the kick from the touchline!” joked Mitchell. “It’s something we’ve done a lot of work on as a squad, looking at mentality and preparation, and we seem to make it difficult for ourselves and be scrabbling around at the end of a game. I made the call hoping the guys would back me up as we do score some tries.”
Top try-scorer of the season: A member of the HSBC Dream Team for the second season in a row, Perry Baker scored eight tries on the Twickenham turf to take his tally for the 2016-17 series to an impressive 52 for the USA. The flyer, who goes by the nickname of SpeedStick, broke through the 100 series tries milestone this season and now has a total of 133. He isn't done yet, though, and has a simple mission: “I just want to grow the game back in the States. It is a great game and not a lot of people know about it ... the more people who know about it is better for the game and I just want to tell people about it. I'd tell other athletes that rugby is better than their sport! Come and give rugby a try, it is a great game, a great atmpsphere, you build a lot of memories and friends that will stay with you.”