New coach wants Aussies 7’s to find “point of difference”
New Australian Men’s Sevens coach Andy Friend believes Australia needs to alter its playing style and find a “point of difference” ahead of a bumper year for the short form sport, that will see Rugby Sevens debut at the Olympics in August.
The former Brumbies coach will join the squad at the end of this month just days ahead of the inaugural Sydney Sevens on February 6-7.
“All the other top teams on the world series have a point of difference and I reckon we’ve got to create one too, and then try and perfect that over the next seven months,” Friend told World Rugby.
“When I watch the team play I am trying to work out what is their point of difference and I am not sure yet whether they are aware of what that is. All the other top teams on the world series have a point of difference and I reckon we’ve got to create one too.”
After qualifying for the Olympics in November, Australia had a disappointing start to the 2015-16 World Series in Dubai and Cape Town and currently sit eighth in the series standings.
Whilst a busy schedule leading into the opening two tournaments of the season could be blamed for the poor performances, Friend said he isn’t ruling out inviting a handful of Wallabies to join the squad as part of the sides Olympic preparations.
“Obviously there are some very talented footballers in the 15s game, who, given the right training environment and given sufficient time, could be good sevens footballers,” he said.
“But there’s a lot more to it than a bloke saying, I want to have a crack at the Olympics and then jumping on a plane.”
Winger Henry Speight made his debut at the Dubai tournament late last year and was the first of a handful of Wallabies who have shown interest in converting to the seven-a-side game.
However Friend said any potential Olympian would have to commit to the program for a substantial period of this year.
“If there are Wallaby players who are interested and if their Super Rugby contracts or Wallaby contracts give them the time to commit to a couple of sevens tournaments and then a 10-week block leading into Rio then, by all means, I’ll take a look at them.”
“As we’re seeing with Sonny Bill Williams and Liam Messam with New Zealand and Francois Hougaard and Juan de Jong with South Africa and Henry Sleight with us, they have been given to the sevens programme to get them up to speed with what sevens is all about.
“You saw with Henry’s play in Dubai that he is a very talented footballer, but it is a new game for him and he is going to need a couple more tournaments to get himself ready to play at the highest level.”
Friend also didn’t rule out offering Toulon recruit Quade Cooper a ticket home ahead of the Olympics, if he gained a release from his French club.
“What I know about Quade is when he’s playing 15 on 15, he finds space so if he plays seven on seven, it’s going to be pretty special,” Friend said. “He has the rugby nous and the rugby ability to make a big difference on a sevens field.”
The 46-year old former Suntory Sungoliath coach has limited Sevens coaching experience but said while he has plenty to learn, he was looking forward to the challenge.
“I coached a little bit of sevens with Suntory in 2001/02 and I had a three-week involvement with Aussie sevens in 2005, when I went away with them to Wellington and Los Angeles, before coming over to England with Harlequins. Beyond that I’ve just been a follower.
“I enjoy the game, but if I am being honest it’s not something I’ve done a lot of work in. It is going to be a very exciting challenge for me to get my head around the nuances of the game and to try and add some value to the Aussie side. I’m sure it’s going to be a steep learning curve.”
With just over sevens months until the Olympics, Friend is confident he has enough time to make an impact and help Australia get a result in Brazil.
“The team’s in a very healthy position and I see my role as building on this,” he said.
“Any of the teams in the top eight, probably the top 10, can beat each other on their day. For me it is all about getting the players ready for that three-day window in Rio and then going over there and giving it our best shot. But there are a lot of teams aiming to do the same as we are so I’m sure it’ll be a fantastic tournament.”