All eyes, understandably so, are on Rugby Sevens’ debut at the Summer Olympics in Rio in August.
However, in the background at Sevens HQ, planning is well underway for the 2016-17 and 2017-18 HSBC Sevens World Series as well as the XXI Commonwealth Games.
Conor Mitchell, a XVs backrower, has been identified as a Commonwealth Games prospect, captaining a development squad that put the national side to the test in a pre-Rio hitout. “We came together on the morning of the first game and kind of expected we’d be on the wrong end of a [big] score,” the 22-year-old from the University of Queensland said.
“However, as we became more familiar with each other, the performances naturally improved.”
After the series, national captain Ed Jenkins had some encouraging words for the emerging players that really hit home for Mitchell.
“It was very nice of Ed [Jenkins] to say such kind things – we came together at short notice and it was wonderful to get recognition from the national captain. It gave us all huge confidence and boosted our self-esteem. It proved we do have what it takes to take things to the next level – we were given a platform to prove ourselves and I think most of us did that.”
The Australian Commonwealth Games Association (ACGA) is supporting the national Sevens program via its Gold Coast ‘GOLD’ 2018 Team Preparation Program, with the funding received by ACGA allowing for more resources to be devoted to development players and staff, bringing players through.
“There are amazing opportunities in sevens these days,” says Mitchell, who himself made his World Series debut in Vancouver in April this year. “There are now different pathways to representing your country and playing Sevens is one of them.
“There are now all different sorts of players playing the game – you need players that can take restarts, be agile, forwards that are big, strong ball carriers, and quick players in the backs – each player has their own area of expertise.
“My aim in the short-term is to break into the Sevens set-up and earn a contract that will help me play in more World Series tournaments. The Commonwealth Games is in two years, in my home state, and there would be no greater thrill than playing in a multi-sport event in front of my family and friends.”
“I also have ambitions of representing Australia at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics – it’ll obviously be the second time Rugby would be part of the Summer Olympic program by then so there’ll be even more awareness around the game than there is for Rio.”
Australian Men’s Sevens coach Andy Friend gives his thoughts on five next generation Sevens prospects:
“A little half with very good feet and a very good kicker. He has terrific skills and game awareness. He comes from Melbourne but is now up in Brisbane playing for Sunnybank. He’s a good talker – like all scrum-halves – and is an outstanding prospect.”
“If I were to compare him to a current Sevens rep, it’d be Tom Cusack. He gets around the park well, is a strong tackler and is good at receiving restarts.”
“Conor is on an EPS contract at the moment and I was delighted to hand him his national Sevens debut earlier this year. He’s an uncompromising forward who boasts a very good workrate.”
“He plays for Warringah and has toured with Tribe 7s so he has had the opportunity to hone his skills overseas. He’s a forward that is tough over the ball and combative.”
“A member of our development squad and a winger for Gordon in the Sydney Shute Shield competition. Brandon has good speed and is elusive with ball in hand. He’s also a brave defender.”