Sevens stars could face dilemma

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Published: Friday 10th October 2014 by The News Editor

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Mike Brown, George North and Sonny Bill Williams could be forced into a season-long sabbatical from club rugby to chase their Olympic dreams.

World stars like England full-back Brown and Wales wing North could need to commit to an entire year of Rugby Sevens action to win the right to appear at 2016’s Rio Olympics.

The top four finishers at this term’s HSBC World Sevens Series will win automatic qualification for rugby’s short-format Olympic debut in Brazil.

The International Rugby Board (IRB) Sevens general manager Avan Lee believes national coaches will demand “world 15s superstars” make a season-long commitment to the sport, in the build-up to Rio.

That would mean both Harlequins’ Brown and Northampton wing North, whose current club deals expire in summer 2016, would require special dispensation for an extended break after World Cup 2015.

“There has been talk of a few world 15s superstars wanting to play Sevens in Rio and the coaches of those national teams are basically saying they will need to play a full season of the Sevens World Series before Rio,” Lee told Press Association Sport.

“That’s how long it will take for them to know the systems, but also for their bodies to change in terms of size and speed and so forth.

“A concern would be that player X comes back for Rio, walks into the team, knocks a player out that’s been a Sevens player for five years, and been a very competent Sevens player.

“I think that’s a risk, but in saying that if you get someone like Sonny Bill Williams, who has been talked about from New Zealand, or a Mike Brown from England or George North, players of that calibre, clearly we’d be excited to see them play Sevens.”

England have been nominated as the country whose IRB Sevens final ranking position at the end of the forthcoming campaign will count towards TeamGB’s qualifying chances.

So if England finish the nine-leg competition, starting this weekend on Australia’s Gold Coast, inside the top four, Great Britain will automatically secure a slot at Rio.

New Zealand talisman Williams is back in union after another stint in league, with the clear intention of forcing his way back into the All Blacks squad for next year’s World Cup in England.

The versatile 29-year-old has made no secret of his desire to chase Olympic glory in Rio too, but his situation will be far less complicated given the NZRU’s overall control of the New Zealand game.

“You’ve seen in the past players have come back for the Commonwealth Games, but we saw in Glasgow there were very few 15s players that played Sevens,” said Lee.

“That’s partly due to commitments around 15s, but that’s also due to the fact that Sevens is a very, very different sport in terms of body composition, conditioning, so it’s quite difficult to switch.

“What’s for sure is that they could struggle if they expect to just be parachuted in late on.

“Knowing some of the coaches, their culture and team environment is paramount, so they will be very conscious of someone coming in and disrupting that.

“So that’s why I think they are looking to have players play at least a whole season of the HSBC Series before Rio.

“The debut in Rio is incredibly important for the future of the game.

“If we can do a good job in 2016 we can become a core sport, and that’s very important for rugby globally.”

Published: Friday 10th October 2014 by The News Editor

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