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Rugby Sevens coaches cast eye over Auckland Nines for Rio talent

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Australian Rugby Union Sevens coach Michael O'Connor and his New Zealand counterpart Gordon Tietjens will take more than a passing interest in the inaugural NRL Nines tournament, and admit they could spot a prospect for the 2016 Olympic Games.

While the pair played down suggestions they would be scouting for talent that could help win an Olympic gold medal when Sevens makes its debut at the Rio Games, O'Connor and Tietjens will closely monitor the two-day tournament at Eden Park.

''By and large, most of the players are contracted until the end of this year or next year so realistically it would be a stretch to say you could get a player for one year from league who hasn't played rugby union to play rugby union at the Olympics,'' O'Connor said.

''But in saying that, I am always looking out for players, and I am very interested in this Nines competition this weekend. As a league follower, I will be interested to have a look at it to see who plays well.''

O'Connor already has former Gold Coast Titans flyer Shannon Walker in his squad, and the 25-year-old is considered a key player for Australia at the Olympics. The now defunct Rugby League World Sevens launched a number of careers, including those of Noa Nadruku and Billy Slater.

''Those players get a real opportunity to show what they can do in Nines because of the extra space on the field so I think it is a great idea, and I am looking forward to watching it more from a spectator point of view than anything,'' O'Connor said.


Warriors halfback Shaun Johnson is expected to be one of the stars of the Nines, and Tietjens spoke with him after he previously expressed an interest in playing Sevens at the Olympics.

Johnson ruled himself out of contention after extending his contract with the Warriors last week until the end of the 2017 season but Tietjens admitted other talent could be unearthed at the Nines.

''I am obviously going to be an interested spectator,'' Tietjens said. ''It is all televised live here in New Zealand, and I will be looking at it from a number of different angles, no question.

''But we have got a stance in New Zealand where if you want to go to the Olympics with the All Blacks Sevens team then you have basically got to come to rugby union, so if Shaun Johnson wanted to have a crack at the Olympics he has got to play rugby union for a franchise or be contracted to the NZRU.''

Regardless of whether they see any potential Olympic talent, O'Connor and Tietjens believe the Nines will be a huge success.

''I tried to get some accommodation in Auckland for Wednesday night, and everything was sold out,'' Tietjens said. ''They have presold the tickets, which makes it pretty big because Eden Park is a pretty big venue.''

O'Connor, who played in the World Sevens during his career with Manly, said he believed the Nines could expand into a summer circuit, as suggested by NRL chief operating officer Jim Doyle.

''I think it has potential because you have that massive fan base to start with and following,'' O'Connor said. ''I am a great believer in the shortened game in rugby union, and I applaud what the NRL are doing. I think it is a great idea.''