New best mate: Boost for Aussie Olympic hopes as Andy Friend is named sevens head coach
Squad with ‘never say die’ attitude capable of beating any team in the world, says new boss
Australia’s men’s sevens aspirations for the 2016 Rio Olympics were given a huge boost on Tuesday with the appointment of Andy Friend as full-time head coach.
Friend will join the Aussie sevens set-up from Japanese club Suntory Sungoliaths at the conclusion of the Top League season in January, meaning the 46-year-old will likely miss the Wellington and Sydney legs of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series.
The Wellington tournament takes place 30-31 January, with Sydney the following week, and former Harlequins and ACT Brumbies coach Friend is expected to take charge of the team ahead of the Las Vegas Sevens in March.
Women’s coach Tim Walsh stepped in to ensure the men of a place in Rio by winning the Oceania Sevens qualifying event in November, and Scott Bowen took charge ahead of the 2015-16 Sevens World Series in December.
Friend, who was part of the Wallabies coaching set-up in 2002 and 2003 and was an assistant coach for the sevens side in 2005, said he felt the Australian squad were very capable of springing a surprise or two in Brazil in August.
“The Australian squad that has been developed over the last few seasons shows great promise and I’m very excited about working with the players,” said the new coach, who has signed a two-and-a-half-year contract with the Australia Rugby Union.
“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].
“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 the game style we need to potentially win a gold medal.
“I think they’re capable of beating any side in the world,” Friend added.
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Friend has made no secret of his desire to include Wallabies playmaker Quade Cooper in his sevens squad for the Summer games, despite the obvious difficulties the France-based player might have in freeing up 10-plus weeks in the run-up to Rio.
“What I know about Quade is when he’s playing 15-on-15 he finds space so if he plays seven-on-seven, it’s going to be pretty special,” Friend told Australian media.
“He has the rugby nous and the rugby ability to make a big difference on a sevens field.”
While Cooper is expected to make his Sevens World Series debut in Wellington or Sydney (6-7 February), Friend said his immediate focus would be creating a unique “point of difference” for the side’s existing arsenal of weapons.
“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,” he said.
Reuters, Associated Press, World Rugby