Wallabies or Olympics?: Manenti hopeful Hooper first of many to make Paris switch

Fri, Nov 17, 2023, 4:01 AM
Nathan Williamson
by Nathan Williamson
John Manenti is looking to draw on some departed Sevens stars for the Paris Olympics. Photo: Getty Images
John Manenti is looking to draw on some departed Sevens stars for the Paris Olympics. Photo: Getty Images

Australia Men's Sevens coach John Manenti is pushing for further collaboration between the Sevens and Super Rugby clubs as nations start to recruit superstars for July's Olympics.

Wallabies legend Michael Hooper was unveiled as their latest signing for 2024, with the Paris Games a major carrot for the 32-year-old to make the switch.

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Over the past 18 months, the Sevens program has unearthed several Super Rugby stars, headlined by Brumbies speedster Corey Toole after his full-time squad was cut drastically.

Toole was a revelation for the ACT side in 2023 and eventually earned an Australia A call-up alongside fellow former Sevens star Lachie Anderson.

Darby Lancaster is the latest to make the switch, signing with the Rebels for 2024.

Manenti spruiked the benefits after a lean 2023 World Cup, confident a successful Olympic campaign can have wonders for the sport.

“We'll look at hopefully getting some of the guys that have been around the program before like (Corey) Tooley and those guys involved at some stages throughout the year so they can be ready for the Olympics if they get the call-up,” Manenti told Rugby.com.au

“There are still conversations which we have to work through with both Rugby Australia and the Super franchises to get everyone in line on board.

“...Everyone agrees the Olympics is really important for Australian Rugby that we do well.  I don’t know (if) we can underestimate on the back of a disappointing World Cup what a great shot in the arm it would be if we could do something special at the Olympics and medal.

“That’s a huge challenge but the better the armoury we can go with, the better chance we’ve got to do it. We’re in a great battle with other codes to try and get and recruit kids and I couldn’t imagine a better endorsement for getting into Rugby than winning a gold medal at the Olympics.”

The current squad Manenti has assembled is one of the strongest in recent memories, with several stars remaining from the 2021-22 World Series title. However, the allure of an Olympic medal has led to other nations bolstering their 'armoury' with stars from the 15-a-side game.

Hosts France are looking like they'll assemble their version of the 'Dream Team', with superstar Antoine Dupont set to link up along with winger Damian Penaud, centre Arthur Vincent and flanker Sekou Macalou.

Fiji called upon the likes of Semi Radradra and Vilimoni Botitu for the Tokyo Olympics, whilst Springbok Kurt-Lee Arendse is another with previous Olympic experience.

Dupont has already indicated he is prepared to miss the Six Nations in 2024 to fulfil his Sevens dream, with any prospective Wallabies signings from the 15-a-side having to do the same for the mid-year internationals.

There is a history of this with Samu Kerevi missing a Test against Argentina in 2022 for the Commonwealth Games, although it ended in disaster when he suffered an ACL injury that derailed his season.

The final five events of the new-look SVNS Series will also overlap with Super Rugby Pacific, with Manenti pushing for further collaboration to ensure they can be at their best.

“There’s a couple realities to what we’re trying to do is that at some stage, some of the Super teams have to be prepared to release a player for a game,” he insists. “If we’re going to take someone to Hong Kong or somewhere, he may have to miss a game of Super Rugby so there’s going to be an understanding for the betterment of the greater good. 

“It may not even be a starting player, maybe a squad player but I mean if we’re going to have success at some stage, the Super Rugby franchises have to support us in some capacity and that could mean missing a game.

“This may mean that a Wallaby may miss a Test (in July) to come to the Olympics and that’s where the alignment of the game comes so that’s a tough decision of whether they want to be an Olympian or a Wallaby and that isn’t an easy decision that people make and they’ll be individual decisions."

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