The lure of returning home and a chance to coach at the Olympics made Andy Friend’s decision to take up the Men’s Sevens job was an easy one.
Currently coaching Japanese Top League side Suntory Sungoliath, Friend says he has had a long love of the shorter rugby format, since being an assistant in the squad in 2005.
The 46-year-old has plenty of optimism about the current Sevens squad as they begin their Olympic preparations in earnest.
“I think first and foremost the squad that’s been assembled over the last few years has done an incredible job,” he said.
“I’m looking forward to getting to know those boys as best I can as quickly as I can.”
Friend said the team’s character was the most exciting thing he had noticed as an outside observer.
“From watching them, I think they’ve got the Aussie ‘never say die’ attitude and the way they come back in games and fight through the death (is a big strength),” he said.
“We’ve got a couple of speedsters and a couple of playmakers which is also good and I’m keen to see them and talk about game style we need to potentially win a gold medal.
“I think they’re capable of beating any side in the world.”
Friend said his focus would be creating a point of difference with his side’s weapons.
“Rugby’s all about the breakdown in attack and defence and there are some areas in that where we can improve,” he said.
“Physically, we’re not going to match the Fijians or the New Zealanders, our strength needs to be different and speed and ability to create space is the thing.”
As the former Brumbies mentor returns to Australia for the first time since 2011, he said the management side of coaching was the most important thing he had learned in his time away.
“Everyone’s individual and while we play a team game, we can’t treat them all the same way,” he said.
“Certainly over my time as a coach, that’s the biggest thing I’ve learned, that you need to set some parameters but work with individuals.
And while most of his coaching experience has been in 15s, the transition from his current role in Japan to the Sevens won’t be an entirely unfamiliar one.
“Japanese rugby is quick about movement and speed of ball and there’s lots of ball in play,” he said.
“There’s lots of speed with what they do and high skills. I’m keen to take a leaf from here (into the Sevens).”
Friend finishes his commitments with Suntory Sungoliath on January 23 and his first involvement with the Sevens will be the next weekend in Wellington.
He replaces interim coach Scott Bowen as the permanent Men’s Sevens mentor, on a two-and-a-half-year contract.