It was the tweet heard around the Sevens world. It may have only contained four words, 14 characters and an emoji, but USA Superstar Perry Baker’s cryptic post this week set off a storm of speculation about the future of the reigning HSBC World Sevens player of the year.
Baker is the poster boy of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series. Quite literally, as he appeared on the film poster for the documentary about his USA Team released earlier this year. A fascinating athlete, who started as an NFL player before an injury forced him to change track, Baker has been a dominant force in Rugby Sevens for the last few years. His 170 tries on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series make him the USA’s leading all-time try-scorer and the 9th all-time in the history of the sport, despite having played for only a relatively short time. Capable of scoring from literally anywhere on the pitch, the electric speed merchant is truly box-office.
But based on his cryptic message, Baker looks to be considering a future away from the Rugby Sevens circuit. The draw of 15s is obvious, particularly with the USA having qualified for the Rugby World Cup in Japan next year. Clearly that offers a profile beyond where Rugby Sevens is at – at least for now. But Baker would do well to ponder his future long and hard, because Rugby Sevens still has a lot to offer the incredible talent.
Baker isn’t just one of the sports most electric players, he is one of the faces of the entire sport as it moves into a fascinating new era. Sevens is growing and getting more and more attention worldwide. Any sport reaching new fans in this way needs stars. Baker, having succeeded on the Series already and having incredible highlight-reel type skills, is set up to the be the signature athlete of a Series that goes from strength to strength. As the sport grows in popularity, that position becomes extremely valuable.
I have no doubt that Baker could be a success in 15s. Rugby Sevens requires astonishing athleticism and skill, traits that Baker has displayed consistently. Those traits certainly would translate to 15s in time, but there’s no guarantee of immediate success. 15s also offers a new challenge for Baker physically, and with a relatively slight frame, he will have to consider injury risk. Particularly as he picked up knocks several times on the (admittedly brutal) HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series last season.
Players transitioning from Sevens to 15s isn’t particularly new, many players have taken the path Baker is considering. But Baker’s talent, combined with the current opportunity for Sevens, makes his situation unique.
Perry Baker has earned the right to have opportunities presented to him from all over the Rugby World, and his immense talent certainly justifies them. But as he considers his future, it’s worth remembering that the grass isn’t always greener, and that the grass he glides over on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series, is still very, very green.
Written By James Fenn – 24/09/18