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Come Hayne or shine: intrigue surrounds Fiji’s latest sevens sleight of hand

Former rugby league player faces a race against time to show he is worthy of a place in an Olympic squad where everyone is a star

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 May, 2016, 4:49pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 May, 2016, 6:27pm

Olympic fever went to a new level this week, with Jarryd Hayne announcing he is leaving the NFL to pursue a spot in the Fiji sevens team for Rio.

Rarely does an announcement pose as many questions as this one and it took some time to sink in.

As an Aussie, the first question was: “Why isn’t he playing for Australia?”

They didn’t ask him, Hayne said.

It has since emerged that he had indeed been approached before he moved to San Francisco.

Had it been a choice, Fiji would likely have still come out on top.

Of all the teams that have qualified for the Olympics, Fiji are not only the best but possess a close to unexplainable depth.

Throughout the 2015-16 World Rugby Sevens Series they have rolled out player upon player who fit seamlessly into the machine.

The Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens showed how hard it is to transform from 15s to sevens, let alone from league to sevens via the NFL.

All Black superstar Sonny Bill Williams has been at it for months and still has plenty of work to do, with his bamboozling at the hands of Kenya captain Andrew Amonde in Paris last weekend evidence of this.

The likes of Australian coach Andy Friend, world series leading try-scorer Seabelo Senatla and England captain Tom Mitchell have been quick to point out just how tough the transformation is.

With only one round of the world series left, time is quickly running out for teams to get their combinations right and decide which 15s stars make the cut.

It does make you wonder just how Hayne is going to make this work.

Coach Ben Ryan has proven himself to be the most astute of judges and knows the inner workings of the Fiji team, so he would not have gone into this lightly

Not only does he need to get himself to the point where he is ready to play in the biggest ever sevens tournament, he needs to jump in front of at least one of the best 12 sevens players Fiji has to offer.

The Fijians ramped up their Olympic tilt in Paris, including a quartet of 15s stars that featured 2014 sevens player of the year Samisoni Viriviri.

One thing that stands out about the Fijians is their closeness as a group and their almost telepathic instincts.

Time will tell if Hayne can become a part of this side, where every player is a star but not one is bigger than the next.

It looks to be one of sports great long shots, like Leicester City winning the English Premier League at 5,000-1.

Coach Ben Ryan has proven himself to be the most astute of judges and knows the inner workings of the Fiji team, so he would not have gone into this lightly. Maybe there are other forces at work.

He described Hayne as a “blinding rugby player” but obviously refused to offer any guarantees, while also saying it is a no-lose situation drafting Hayne into the squad.

This is likely the way that Hayne is viewing the experiment also.

Had he seen the writing on the wall at the 49ers and already started plotting his return to the NRL, it is a more-than-worthy detour regardless of the outcome.

While the Hong Kong Sevens were run and won as expected, with Fiji defeating New Zealand in the final and Australia and South Africa rounding out the top four, there has been more than a little mayhem since then.

Kenya shocked everyone with an inspirational run to the title in Singapore and Samoa one-upped Kenya with a come-from-behind victory over Fiji in Paris.

They took their chances while the top-end sides experimented with their line-ups, but the self-belief is there now for these two teams.

Samoa have to get to Rio first and, if nothing else, their form will give the likes of Hong Kong, Canada and Russia nightmares ahead of June’s repechage in Monaco.