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Rugby Sevens coaches cast eye over Auckland Nines for Rio talent

Game changer: Todd Carney.

Game changer: Todd Carney. Photo: Getty Images

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.

Nines fan: Australian Sevens coach Michael O'Connor.

Nines fan: Australian Sevens coach Michael O'Connor. Photo: Getty Images

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.

Flying Knight: Akuila Uate.

Flying Knight: Akuila Uate. Photo: Getty Images

''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.''

34 comments so far

  • As a Rugby Union tragic, I politely disagree with Wallaby legend Michael O'Connor. We have more than enough domestic talent in the real code to challenge for gold in Rio. Why would we need to even look at a second-rate code when we already have world superstars like Izzy Folau, Quade Cooper and Will Genia who will lead us in Rio? Looking forward to watching the Wallabies win gold in Brazil!

    Winston Cornthwaite of Mosman
    Date and time
    February 14, 2014, 2:32AM
    • Winsten, I realise you are trying to get a reaction ... But what the heck, I'll bite.
      You do realise 1 of the players you mentioned is from a second rate Code?
      In 2010 Keebra Sports High School rugby league team won the Australian school boys Rugby 7's despite none of the players having ever played union or 7's before.
      Just an example of a "second rate code" beating "the real code"

      Date and time
      February 14, 2014, 11:54AM
    • "More than enough talent? the code is dying in oz and the union is in 9m debt and climbing!
      as for a second rate code i guess the broadcasters wasted 1.2 Billion on it then? thought not .....R.I.P Thugby Yawnion !

      Date and time
      February 14, 2014, 12:50PM
    • Winston, while I like to see the Rebels win an occasional match, my preference is to see Australia do well in World Cups and Olympics. And that means getting our best on the park, so if we can get Slater, Inglis, Thurston, Cronk, Cameron Smith et al to join Folau, then do it.

      Date and time
      February 14, 2014, 12:57PM
    • And then you woke up...

      Date and time
      February 14, 2014, 1:01PM
    • You must be a tragic to keep following Union. I played both union and league and I must say I've given up following the union because I cannot understand the penalties anymore. Its a far different game to the one I played. They've copied league so much with left and right centres, players running angles and decoy runners. The union ref has far too much influence on the result nowdays and I find the game boring. At the same time I think the league has changed their rules to the betterment of the spectacle and I really enjoy watching it.

      Date and time
      February 14, 2014, 1:05PM
    • I think you may have just answered your own question there Winston.
      Talent like Israel Folau
      From another Union tragic and keen league fan.
      The 2 don't have to be mutually exclusive.

      Date and time
      February 14, 2014, 2:01PM
    • World Superstars like Folau - hate to break it to you buddy but Folau is a league player turned union player, and while we are at it Cooper was also brought up playing league and poached as a teenager.... Lets not forget as well that Cooper was born in NZ and Genia in PNG. Your local talent in the real code come from overseas and cross code.

      Date and time
      February 14, 2014, 2:16PM
    • Spoken like a true rugby union fan, one of the few left. Nrl players would wipe the floor in sevens. They are by far the superior footballers and athletes. Nrl reserve graders play for the wallabies and super (sic) rugby teams. Our only hope to win gold is to play our best rugby players, the majority of whom play rugby league!

      Date and time
      February 14, 2014, 3:05PM
  • In 1895 in England and 1907 in Australia we decided that Rugby players deserve 2 be paid and that it made better players. 100 years later even rugby union agrees on both points.

    Date and time
    February 14, 2014, 4:18AM

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