Qantas Australian Men’s Sevens Head Coach Andy Friend has named his first squad since taking the helm, backing his experienced troops for the HSBC Sydney 7s this weekend.
Ed Jenkins returns to captain the side for the inaugural Sydney tournament, where the home nation will be greeted by the “house full” sign at Allianz Stadium after the fourth 2015/16 HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series event was sold out nine days out from kick off.
A week after a youthful Aussie squad fought valiantly for a fifth-place finish in Wellington, Friend has made five changes to the squad for Sydney, including the return of Jenkins, star back Cameron Clark and Wallabies Test winger Henry Speight.
Speight will play his first Sevens tournament on home soil having been named in the final 12 and will add big game experience to the side, having been a part of the Qantas Wallabies squad that made it to the Rugby World Cup Final.
Fellow Wallabies recruit Quade Cooper will have to wait for his first opportunity in the Sevens format, after he was omitted from the final squad for Sydney today after completing a single training session with the team fresh off a flight from Paris yesterday.
The return of some of the team’s more experienced campaigners will boost its chances in a strong Pool A that includes rivals New Zealand, Canada and Portugal.
Friend said the team was looking forward to the occasion of playing in front of a packed house in its home tournament.
“We’ve had a great preparation this week and there has certainly been that extra bit of intensity in training ahead of what is a big occasion for the boys playing in front of a huge home crowd.
“There are always tough calls to make regarding selection but we are really happy with the balance of the team and confident that they’ll rise to the occasion and produce their best footy this weekend,” he said.
On the non-selection of 58-Test veteran Cooper, Friend said the late arrival and limited preparation of the French-based playmaker ultimately led to the decision to delay his Sevens debut.
“Quade is an exceptional footballer and has shown real character to put his hand up and say I want to be part of this team and work hard for this opportunity. That’s exactly what you want.
“There is no doubt in my mind that he will be a tremendous addition to the squad as we build towards Rio, but due to circumstances which were beyond Quade’s control, and our control, he just couldn’t get enough work in this week with the team.
“Quade is going to get his opportunities during the series and we are really excited to have him here in our group and with us throughout this preparation. He’ll spend the weekend embedded with the squad as well, that contact (with the team) is a really important part of his learning process in a different version of the game.”
Friend said the draw for the inaugural HSBC Sydney 7s has excited fans with a much-anticipated finale to the opening day action when the Aussies clash with rivals New Zealand in the final match on Saturday night.
“Firstly, for fans, I think that’s the game they’ll be most looking forward to. Its always a massive occasion when Australia and New Zealand meet on a Rugby field and this is going to be something a little bit different in the Sevens format but certainly not lacking in the usual intensity.
“They showed what they can do in the Wellington Sevens in that amazing final against South Africa and we are looking forward to the challenge of taking them on in front of a vocal home crowd.”
The inaugural HSBC Sydney 7s will also be screened LIVE in High Definition on FOX SPORTS (channel 502), with opening day coverage from 10.30am AEDT on Saturday 6 February and final day coverage from 9.00am AEDT on Sunday 7 February.
Qantas Australian Men’s Sevens fixtures in Sydney, Australia, 6-7 February
Australia v Portugal, Pool A, 1.34pm AEDT (6 Feb)
Australia v Canada, Pool A, 5.32pm AEDT (6 Feb)
Australia v New Zealand, Pool A, 9.03pm AEDT (6 Feb)
Qantas Australian Sevens Squad for the HSBC Sydney 7s at Allianz Stadium, Sydney:
1. Henry Hutchison Club: Randwick, NSW. Hometown: Crows Nest, NSW
2. Tom Kingston Club: Sydney University, NSW. Hometown: Sydney, NSW
3. Sam Myers Club: Northern Suburbs, NSW. Hometown: Grenfell, NSW
4. Lewis Holland Club: Queanbeyan Whites, NSW. Hometown: Queanbeyan, NSW
5. James Stannard Club: Souths, QLD. Hometown: Brisbane, QLD
6. Con Foley Club: University of Queensland, QLD. Hometown: Fairfield, QLD
7. Cameron Clark Club: Northern Suburbs. NSW. Hometown: Sydney, NSW
8. Greg Jeloudev Cub: Sydney University. NSW. Hometown: Sydney, NSW
9. Ed Jenkins (c) Club: Sydney University, NSW. Hometown: Sydney, NSW
10. Allan Fa’alava’au Club: Endeavour Hills, VIC. Hometown: Melbourne, VIC
11. Henry Speight Club: Aquis Brumbies, ACT. Hometown: Canberra, ACT
12. Tom Cusack Club: Canberra Royals, ACT. Hometown: Canberra, ACT