Sevens Rugby looks set to reach a new audience with its inclusion in the Rio2016 Olympic Games. USA qualified as one of the 12 competing nations and will go for gold in August this year on sport’s biggest stage.
In our third Sevens series article USA Sevens Rugby Captain Madison Hughes and Head Coach Mike Friday shares their experience of the build up to the Games and the challenges of finding that winning combination when selecting a team.
— USA Sevens Rugby (@USASevensRugby) June 3, 2016
How has the HSBC World Series been different in Olympic Year?
Mike Friday (MF): “In terms of media attention with the Olympics it’s bonkers. It’s becoming more and more of a distraction or potential distraction we have to manage and deal with the players. I said to the boys you are going to get nothing out of being great in a magazine article or a TV interview, it might be great at the time but no one will you remember you if you have not delivered what you thought you’d deliver come Olympic time.”
Madison Hughes (MH): “It has picked up to a level we haven’t seen before. It is been ramping up over the last few years but this year it is reached another level with players like Bryan Habana, Sonny Bill Williams, Quade Cooper, Liam Messam joining the circuit with their incredible 15s pedigree.
As a rugby player you want to play against the best. I think there are a lot of outstanding stars in the Sevens Series but when you think of rugby globally it is XVs names like Sonny Bill Williams and the others you think about so it is awesome having them out there. Having them not just walk into their teams and dominate proves there are a lot of good players on the circuit and confirms the validity of the sevens circuit which is a very high level and worth watching.”
How did the USA Team prepare for the Olympics in August?
MH: “We had 2-3 weeks to refresh the body and mind and then went back into camp and forged ahead to Rio. Everyone is very excited and very competitive. Our team was maybe 10 guys who would be World Series level and now it is 15+ competing for places.”
MF: “We gave the players time off to get away from rugby and recharge their minds and bodies. They had remote training to complete to ensure their bodies remained in the right condition but they needed rest as well. Rest was a big part of getting ready for the Olympics as we had quite a rigid preparation in place in camp. We had competitive games in the build-up and we had some hard decisions to make on who the final squad will be.”
— Mike Friday (@MikeFriday09) June 21, 2016
Having options for your team selection was a good position to be in but I imagine it was tough for you to make the final decisions.
MF: “I dreaded it in some respects because there were going to be boys that missed out on a big event. I had a responsibility to pick the best balanced 12 I think can do a job and represent the USA the way the USA needs to be represented. I accepted the responsibility and accountability but I wasn’t looking forward to the conversations. It’s the worst part of the coach’s job – everyone wants to pick the team but no one wants to have the conversations with the ones to be left out.”
— USA Sevens Rugby (@USASevensRugby) July 18, 2016
Those tough decisions speak to the depth of players coming through.
MF: “Adding new players is a slow burn because it was probably easier to get in the squad when we were losing and now it’s harder to earn your spurs but that is a good thing. The thing is the depth is growing slowly but surely and we have to keep the development pool and the conveyor belt moving.
What we can’t expect is that those that came in to be at the level of those that are currently in the World Series, we have to drip feed them in when they are ready. More importantly we need to make sure we have an established Falcons programmes. That we have the finding and ability to bring more of these academy players into the full-time environment with the programme we have hoping to get them on the World Circuit within 12-18 months which requires being able to have bigger squad on a residency programme and then watching the best of the best from the CRCs and club game having a clear pathway to try to get into the Eagles.”
Do you foresee Sevens rugby growing worldwide in the coming years?
MF: “I do see it growing. What would be fantastic is if they have a Division 2 in the men’s game which would grow that pool and you’d have genuine promotion and relegation. That would allow more nations to compete on the World Circuit. If they can create a World Series Division 2 whether that is played at the same venues or different venues or times that would certainly expose the sport to more countries across the world and capture a wider imagination and grow the global game.
I also think for certain countries it will always be the pinnacle for Tier 2 nations if their way to compete with a Tier 1 nation and for the Tier 1 nations it will always be part of the development pathway.”
— USA Sevens Rugby (@USASevensRugby) July 12, 2016
Gavin Hickie, USA Rugby Collegiate All-Americans Forwards Coach, is a former Ireland A & 7s, Leinster and Leicester rugby player now Head Coach of Dartmouth Rugby. He writes for RugbyToday.com and other publications when not coaching and blogging on lineoutcoach.com