Is this New Zealand's next superstar?
SPOTLIGHT: Schoolboy sprint star Edward Osei-Nketia has blown away New Zealand Rugby bosses in his first venture into Sevens, at a camp in Auckland.
The 18-year-old – who claimed the New Zealand, Australia and Oceania 100m titles this year and came within 0.01 seconds of qualifying for a semifinal at the World Athletics Championships in Qatar in September – is one of 96 athletes attending the talent identification programme this week.
Joining Osei-Nketia at the event are members of the New Zealand Schools side, nationally-ranked surf life savers, representative netballers, New Zealand age grade waterpolo stars and internationally decorated rowers as NZR attempts to uncover young rugby and non-rugby playing athletes with potential in Sevens.
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Six of those athletes will be handed a place in the All Blacks Sevens and Black Ferns Sevens development squads ahead of their upcoming seasons.
Osei-Nektia’s involvement has been limited to a non-playing capacity as he preserves his body in a bid to qualify for next year’s Tokyo Olympics as a track and field sprinter, but glimpses of his immense athleticism have been on show at The Trusts Arena.
In fact, the man who became the fourth-fastest New Zealander in history en route to claiming the Australian 100m title in Sydney seven months ago with a time of 10.19 seconds has left NZR officials in awe of his physical prowess.
“I’ve never seen an athlete with those genetics, ever,” New Zealand Rugby’s high-performance sevens talent ID manager PJ Williams told Stuff.
“He is 99 percent fast-twitch muscle fibre. I’ve never seen an athlete [like Osei-Nketia] walk through our doors in rugby, ever. And we probably never will see one again.”
When asked about Osei-Nketia’s rugby-playing potential, Williams said: “How long is a piece of string? He has got speed, he has got the size, he has got an attitude that is focussed for high performance.”
The 1.90m, 95kg teenager, who is the son of the Ghanian-born New Zealand 100m record-holder Gus Nketia, has history as a rugby player, having played the sport during his time in Australia at St Edmunds College.
He told Stuff earlier this year that he averaged “three to four” tries per match while at the Canberra school, and was supposed to play for the Scots College 1st XV in Wellington this year before his athletics career took off.
“I was always stuck on the wing. But I could see myself as a fullback, centre and if I can pull my head straight, I could be a flyhalf too. I’d need to improve on my kicking game though,” Osei-Nketia said while at the Red Bull Ignite 7 event.
While he won’t be exposed to any physical contact, the camp has provided Osei-Nketia with an opportunity to showcase running ability as well as a chance to work on his ball skills.
“I’m here trying to learn more as I go as a sprinter, learn the game, learn the people and learn as many different things about rugby as possible so that one day, if possible, we can make a switch and I can be on top of the game.
“We don’t know what is going to happen, we have to keep our options open.”
Although a place at the 2020 Olympics is a realistic prospect, it’s unknown how long Osei-Nketia’s sprinting career will last, especially given how seriously he is taking a potential career in rugby.
NZR high-performance sevens development manager Chad Tuoro told Stuff last month that the youngster would need to make the jump to rugby no later than 2021 if he is to succeed at an elite level in the sport, but sources close to RugbyPass have indicated that a cross-code switch is still a very real possibility.
That doesn’t mean that Osei-Nketia has ruled out the idea of representing New Zealand at both sevens and athletics at the 2024 Olympics in Paris.
“We’ll take it one at a time at the moment but I would love to do both.”
The Sevens programme will wrap up with a day-long tournament on Sunday, where the six development players will be announced.
By Alex McLeod, RugbyPass