After scoring 24 tries in 18 matches this season, Perry Baker (aka ‘Speed Stick’) continues to be one of the most devastating finishers on the Sevens circuit.
In November, the US star picked up the World Rugby Sevens Player of the Year award after scoring 57 tries during a memorable 2016/17 season.
In what was a tumultuous year for the 31-year-old Florida native, many believed England’s Danny Norton – another star operating at an immense level – deserved the accolade after a season in which he broke the Rugby Sevens try scoring record.
But if there was any doubt about who the stand-out player is, it was nullified this weekend in Las Vegas as Baker crossed the line for eight tries and looked virtually unmarkable during America’s successful campaign.
At 6’1 and 82kg, Baker possesses frightening pace and power. Against England in the quarter-finals he scored three first-half tries, with his first five strides taking him past two players at a time. It’s scary to think a winger competing at this level can make it look so easy.
Not only can he beat opponents and score tries, but he is also solid in defence and demonstrated this when holding up a series of attacks against England and Fiji, at points in the game when the US were under pressure.
In most teams – amateur and professional – a lethal winger can sometimes be a weak tackler, but Baker’s freakish ability to be strong in attack and defence highlights his status as the best player in Sevens rugby.
The Blitzboks’ Seabelo Senatla – now playing Super Rugby with the Stormers – is another outstanding figure on the Sevens circuit, and Luke Morgan is having the year of his life for Wales – but in Baker, the Eagles possess a naturally gifted all-round player.
When the Eagles Sevens stepped out against Argentina in the final of the Las Vegas 7s on Sunday, it was always going to be an interesting encounter – with the hosts bidding for a second ever win on the circuit and Argentina featuring in just their second final.
But Mike Friday’s side looked more influential with ball in hand, and Baker crossed the line for one of the four tries as they sealed a first win on the circuit since May 2015 at the London Sevens.
Sevens has always taken Baker’s preference, but with US rugby rising, could 2018 be the year we see the most devastating finisher in the game star for the 15s side?
It may be too early to get excited, but Baker’s superiority in Las Vegas shows a player with the complete array of skills required to thrive at any format of the game.
Rassie Erasmus has been named as the new South Africa coach.
Former Munster Rugby director Erasmus, who played in 36 Tests for the Springboks, succeeds Allister Coetzee.
Coetzee was dismissed last month following a run of poor results, and 45-year-old Erasmus will combine coaching duties with his role as SA Rugby’s director of Rugby.
Erasmus will head up the Springboks’ management team until the end of the 2023 Rugby World Cup, SA Rugby announced.
“The Springbok team is our flagship brand, and the on-field performances have a direct impact on the business of SA Rugby,” chief executive Jurie Roux told the organisation’s official website.
“Following a very detailed review process of the 2017 season, I believe that we have managed to assemble a strong and experienced Springbok coaching and management staff.
“We are looking forward to see improved performances this season.”
Erasmus’ first Test at the helm will be against Wales in Washington DC on June 2, which is followed by a three-Test home series against England.
“It is a huge task to coach the Springboks, and I am very privileged,” Erasmus said.
“I really believe we have the players and the Rugby IP (intellectual property) to turn things around and to mount a serious challenge at next year’s Rugby World Cup.
“We have 18 Tests and just under 600 days until Japan 2019, and although a lot of planning has already gone into our Rugby World Cup preparation, it is very important that we prepare thoroughly for the matches against Wales and England in June.”
Height: 5’ 8” / 176cm
Weight: 78kgs / 12st 2lbs
Birthplace: Brighton, UK
Years in the Middle East: Five
Honours: Representing Worthing in National League 1 for a season
Favourite childhood memory of rugby: Going on a rugby tour to New Zealand with mates at U16 county level, winning five games out of six, beating Wesley College 16-12, and being able to do moves like a double dummy switch, and it actually working
Favourite player growing up: Carlos Spencer, he had such a strut around the pitch and never knew what he was going to do next
Rugby team you support: Harlequins and England
Best international at the moment and why: Beauden Barrett, he’s got it all
Rule you would change and why: A knock-on should be a free-kick to the other team and play from there. Scrums suck so much energy out of players and slow the game down
Best game you ever saw: Don’t watch rugby
Toughest opponent in UAE (team or player): Abu Dhabi Harlequins. Never like playing against them, as they seem to have the winning habit
Funniest/most embarrassing moment in your career: When I was kicking off the final at Bournemouth 7’s. The ref blew the whistle and I kicked up a huge puff of sand and the ball dribbled 10m with the whole crowd laughing
Greatest achievement in any sport: Completing the 70.3 Bahrain Iron Man and many other triathlons and races
If you could be a professional in any other sport what it would be and why? A Triathlete. The reward you get for training so hard and getting such fast times over such long distances
Favourite meal: Sushi, all the Sushi
Favourite place in the Middle East: Muscat, a boat trip along the coastline, or a trip up to the Wadis, you can’t beat it