On your toes or you're on toast: Wells loving the sevens challenge

by Iain Payten

As a bigger guy on an international sevens field there are lots of potential pitfalls.

Handling the speed of a rival who runs track for the USA in his spare time. Trying to sprint non-stop for 14 minutes when you weigh 20 kilograms more than the next bloke. Throwing 25 metre passes onto your mate’s chest, every time.

Michael Wells can handle most of that.

Michael Wells will make his Waratahs debut this weekend. Photo: RUGBY.com.au/Stuart WalmsleyBut for the 108kg big man who spent much of 2018 playing no.8 in Super Rugby, one type of threat stands out: the dudes who can ‘teleport'.

"I’d say my biggest worry coming back into sevens was going into one-on-one tracking stuff,” Wells said.

"In 15s you don’t face nearly as much one-on-one, it’s usually like seven-on-seven in a confined space, and I rarely have wingers against me with 15 metres on either side.

"That’s the biggest thing I was concerned about. Blokes here have seriously good feet. Guys like Maurice Longbottom and “Quinny” (Brandon Quinn) as well, and they can stand you up and you look like a bit of a fool.”

When it comes to elusiveness though, the Teflon king of the world sevens circuit is undoubtedly Fiji’s Jerry Tuwai. 

Teams don’t build strategies for one-on-one defence for Tuwai because that is generally not enough defenders.

“People joke that Jerry Tuwai can teleport. You’re tracking him and one minute he’s there and the next minute he’s gone,” Wells laughs.

"So that’s the biggest thing for me and some of the other bigger boys. We rely on our inside support and a lot of chat in the D line, and that really helps us out.

“You have to go back to your fundamentals of tracking. You have to keep your feet moving and keep your body weight over the front of your feet, because as soon as you sit down they’re gone.”

Wells will be back dealing with the fly-boys, sprinters and teleporters next week in Dubai after he was named on Wednesday in the Australian men’s sevens team for the World Sevens Series opener.

After leaving the Australian sevens program at the end of 2015 to join the Brumbies - and then the Waratahs - Wells recently signed an unusual new contract will see him play both sevens and Super Rugby.

The 25-year-old made a return at the Oceania Sevens this month and will play in his first World Sevens Series tournament in the UAE in over three years next week.

But while size brings its challenges in catching the little men, it also has its tasty advantages when they do collide.

The old adage is that a good big man will always beat a good little man and many sevens teams on the world circuit are well stocked with large, abrasive backrowers who can make the kilos count in the contact zone.

Coach Tim Walsh said with only Jesse Parahi in the squad, Australia were under-resourced with the abrasive big units, and hence his approach to Wells, who many regard as one of the cleanest and hardest hitters in Australian rugby - in any format.

"We really lacked someone to complement Jesse,” Walsh said. 

"Wellsy is at that age where he is mature and a very intelligent bloke and leader. He has aerial skills and that physical presence  But he just also has that edge about him.

"He has the ability to run through people and not man handle them but to have that impact as a powerful guy.

"Sevens is a game of speed and resilience, and being able to use the space with vision and awareness, but it is also a high-contact sport and you have to be able to do everything. Wellsy brings that.”