Rugby greats: Watch out for the Americans in Rio
Traditional rugby giants will face a huge challenge at the Olympics, say two greats
They were champions the last time rugby was contested at the Olympics, almost a century ago in 1924.
It is well down the pecking order in the United States these days, with gridiron, basketball and baseball the nation's top three sports.
But Jason Robinson, who was part of England's 2003 World Cup-winning team, believes the US team could make a splash when rugby makes its reappearance - in a Sevens format - at August's Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
The 41-year-old, who is an ambassador for this weekend's HSBC Hong Kong Sevens along with former Irish Rugby Union star Brian O'Driscoll, said the smaller countries have closed the gap on the traditional big guns, especially in the quicker, more unpredictable Sevens reincarnation.
"Yeah, they (the United States) are a massive danger and threat to the so-called powerhouses," Robinson told The New Paper in a phone interview yesterday.
"It's great the US are pushing the likes of New Zealand, Fiji, South Africa... It's makes everything even more competitive."
Robinson, who played Rugby League and Rugby Union for England, is perhaps more qualified than some to comment on the Americans, after spending Tuesday training with the team as they tuned up for the Hong Kong Sevens.
He said: "I know the coaches Paul Green and Mike Friday, so I was with them the whole day and I helped to do a little bit of coaching, doing some stuff on footwork and how to beat opponents.
"I also found out how they do things on a Sevens level... So it was an insight for me as well.
"To play Sevens, you have to be extremely fit, and I know I would have struggled a while to come to terms with the fitness levels at this level.
"I spent time talking to Carlin Isles and Perry Baker, who are maybe quite new to rugby.
"Carlin is a natural sprinter, and is probably the quickest rugby player today, while Baker was from the NFL... So they were picking my brains."
O'Driscoll, who was shortlisted for the IRB World Player of the Year three times from 2001 to 2009, also backed the US and other so-called minnows to pull off some surprises at the Olympics.
"That's the beauty of Sevens games," said the 37-year-old.
"In one-off matches, any team can beat another on their day."
Robinson said that while Hong Kong is the most hyped-up leg of the Sevens Series, it might not be an accurate gauge of who could triumph at the Olympics.
"In the lead-up to the Olympics, you want to win all the different legs, but Hong Kong is the big one," said the Leeds native.
"But it doesn't mean the winner of the Hong Kong Sevens will win in Rio, because a lot of teams are capable of winning gold at the Olympics.
"(Winning) will go a long way for confidence, and you want to take that to the Olympics.
"But it's no guarantee."
O'Driscoll added that perhaps the biggest factor to success at the Olympics, even more so than form or confidence, was simply luck.
"You see some teams in the past that did well, but were decimated by injuries in the lead-up to tournaments," he said.
"You might be in great form but, in the lead-up, you also have to have a little bit of luck, in terms of everybody being fit.
"Rugby's becoming an increasingly attritional game and, while the Sevens has a lot more pace in its game, there still is a lot of physical contact."
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