How a few beers with mates led to an Australian 7s contract for Ben O’Donnell

When Ben O’Donnell took up an invitation to head away for a weekend and play rugby with his mates at the University Games last year, a professional Sevens contract was the furthest thing from his mind.

“I’d just got back to Australia after playing a season in Spain, so Uni Games was really just an excuse to catch up with my mates who I hadn’t seen for a while,” O’Donnell said.

“To be honest, I was more excited about having a few beers with them then anything else but it’s funny how things work out.”

O’Donnell starred in the amateur tournament and was selected to play in the Australian Universities side at an upcoming National tournament in Adelaide.

“That’s where Friendy (Australian coach Andy Friend) saw me and he asked if I wanted to come and train with the squad and it all sort of went from there.”

“One of the first things he said to me was that it can all happen pretty quickly. He said Sevens was a different game to XVs and everything happens in a heartbeat. After that, I was on a plane a week later to go to Dubai to play with the development team.”

After finishing school at Waverley College in Sydney, Donaldson joined Randwick’s colts program and played with the NSW U20s before heading to Spain for a season in late 2015.

“One of the Randwick coaches was coaching over there and they needed a fullback so he gave me a call and I was on a plane a week later. It was the top league over there and it was pretty good quality, I thought it would be a bit easier,” the fullback said.

“I always loved Sevens and two of my cousins actually played Sevens for New Zealand so I grew up watching them and always wanted to give it a crack. There is plenty of space and a lot of one on ones, which I love.

O’Donnell made his Australian Sevens debut in Dubai late last year and was named yesterday by Andy Friend in Australia’s 12-man squad for this weekend’s Sydney 7s.

After a strong preseason, Australia were disappointing in the opening two legs of the 2017/18 World Series before Christmas but O’Donnell said the squad has had one eye of the Sydney tournament all season.

 

“We want to be regularly competing to win tournaments,” he said.

“We’ve been talking a lot about momentum and it’s a funny thing, it does usually roll on. In saying that though, the standard is pretty high so we’ve got to keep improving if he want to get results.”

While the 22 year old said his first goal was to secure a regular spot in the playing squad this season, he said it was difficult to avoid looking ahead at what might come in a few years time.

“To go from Uni games to the Olympics would be a dream come true. It sounds cliche, but it is,” he said.

“Every kid grows up wanting to be an Olympian and now that Sevens is an Olympic sport, we have the chance to potentially win a gold medal and that’s pretty exciting.”

Australia begin their Sydney 7s campaign against the USA on Friday evening before facing Canada and Scotland on Saturday.