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By FORU Media Unit
Reigning Oceania Sevens champions Australia begin their Rugby Sevens season proper in Apia on Friday, and Coach Michael O’Connor knows it will be a challenge for his young squad.
Two tournaments as the Aussie Thunderbolts, namely the Central Coast and Marist Samoa Sevens, have been excellent preparation for O’Connor ahead of the international season, though he expects things will intensify this weekend.
“The Central Coast was the first tournament for many of these players,” said the former dual international who begins his fourth season in charge of Australia. “Coming to Samoa early was invaluable as Marist was a really good standard of Sevens.”
O’Connor is clear about his goals for the 2011 Oceania Sevens, which was officially opened today.
“Injury and unavailability has given us an opportunity to expose more players to high-class international sevens competition. Yes, we are trialling a lot of new players but we will certainly be trying to defend the title.”
Australia outgunned Samoa 34-12 in Darwin a year ago largely with a team that went on to win the silver medal at the Commonwealth Games. Although many of that squad moved on immediately a core group of players finished sixth in the HSBC Sevens World Series with arguably their best performance - a 35-36 loss to South Africa in the Cup Final at Edinburgh.
That sort of success has again seen O’Connor’s playing ranks raided.
“We lost last year’s captain Bernard Foley, Jono Lance and Zack Holmes to Super Rugby,” said the coach. “But that’s one of the roles of the ARU Sevens Program – preparing players for the step up – so we absolutely wish them the best at that level.”
O’Connor has gone with youth for Apia in the form of teenagers Lindsay Crook and Con Foley, 20-year olds Bill Meakes and Jordan Tuapou and a further five – Pama Fou, Jordan Brown, Ben Adams, BJ Hartmann and Sevens regular Hamish Angus – who have yet to celebrate their 23rd birthday.
“We’ve had guys like Lindsay Crook, who is lightning quick winger from the ACT, and Brumbies Academy loosie James Turner on the radar for a year or so,” said O’Connor. “Lindsay has played for Australia Schools and under-19s and we think he will really benefit from time in the Sevens program.
“BJ and Bill have been showing enormous potential in Sydney club rugby while Con started 2011 captaining his club’s colts side but was promoted to first grade during the year. And Jordan Tuapou, who is actually a Kiwi, captained Queensland and Australian Schools two years back.
“A lot of these blokes have the opportunity to shine in Samoa, be selected for the international season, visit some pretty special destinations and possibly stake an early claim for Rio de Janeiro 2016 (when Rugby Sevens is introduced into the Olympic Games),” added O’Connor.
O’Connor’s young charges will be thrown into the lion’s den on Friday, facing hosts Samoa in their opening Pool B match in trying conditions. Games against the Cook Islands, Solomon Islands and Niue follow at Apia Park before knock-out play commences on Saturday.
Fiji, the top seeds by virtue of their fourth-placed finish on last year’s HSBC Sevens World Series, join Tonga, Papua New Guinea, American Samoa and New Caledonia in Pool A.
Constant rain welcomed many of the teams to the Samoan capital although that has been replaced by the glorious sunshine that Samoa is renowned for. Warm conditions are forecast for the weekend.
Ben Adams (Sunnybank, age 21)
Bill Meakes (Northern Suburbs, 20)
BJ Hartmann (Manly, 21)
Con Foley (University of Queensland, 19)
Danny Routledge (Sunnybank, 23)
Hamish Angus (Warringah, 21)
James Turner (Tuggeranong, 23)
Jordan Brown (Eastern Suburbs NSW, 22)
Jordan Smiler (Northern Suburbs, 26)
Jordan Tuapou (Eastern Suburbs QLD, 20)
Lindsay Crook (Gungahlin, 18)
Pama Fou (Wests, 21)
Players from the Qantas Australian Women's Sevens program visited the Sydney Children's Hospital in Randwick on Thursday to bring some needed festive cheer to sick children.