Sonny Bill Williams is yet to play a sevens tournament but his influence has already been striking for two other high-profile Olympic hopefuls.
Ardie Savea and Akira Ioane are alongside Williams in the All Blacks Sevens squad to contest this weekend’s Wellington leg of the world series.
Two of the rising stars of New Zealand rugby, both dynamic loose forwards are reducing their Super Rugby workload to chase a spot in the New Zealand team to compete at Rio in August.
Both former national age group standouts, they shone in a season each of international sevens, with Savea (2012) and Ioane (2014) having made their debuts at the Wellington tournament.
Their performances this weekend will be closely watched although knocking cross-code kingpin Williams out of the headlines will be a tall order.
Savea admits the SBW factor has rubbed off since joining the All Blacks Sevens squad earlier this month.
“I’m in awe, having Sonny around. To be in the shower, or in the pool with him, it’s quite buzzy,” Savea said.
“Sonny’s like a magnet. The guys like to hang around him. It will be awesome to play alongside him and run off his famous offloads.”
Ioane will play alongside younger brother Rieko, 18, for the first time in sevens. Rieko burst onto the scene at last year’s tournament which the home side won.
Akira Ioane says the brotherly connection makes the tournament special, along with playing alongside 30-year-old Williams.
He was an admirer of Williams’ skills in both rugby league and as double World Cup-winning All Black.
“He’s a professional in his own right. He is that player that transition from anything – he’s got the whole package.”
Savea is the younger brother of All Blacks winger Julian, who joined most of the World Cup-winning squad in choosing not to chase an Olympic sevens medal.