Rugby Union

Former ACT Brumbies coach Andy Friend to be named Australian sevens mentor

Former ACT Brumbies coach Andy Friend is poised to take the Australian men's sevens reins and lead the Olympic Games gold medal dreams almost five years after his Super Rugby stint ended abruptly.

It is understood the Australian Rugby Union will unveil Suntory mentor Friend on Tuesday morning as the long-term replacement for the sevens program, following the shock resignation of Geraint John last September.

Returning home: Former Brumbies mentor Andy Friend is set to be unveiled as Australia's new sevens coach on Tuesday.
Returning home: Former Brumbies mentor Andy Friend is set to be unveiled as Australia's new sevens coach on Tuesday. Photo: Karleen Minney

The expected move into sevens will be the next step in Friend's journey, which has taken him from Brumbies boss to Japan and now on to Brazil for the Rio Games.

Friend has not coached in Australia since parting ways with the Brumbies after just two games of the 2011 Super Rugby season.

Chewing the fat: Andy Friend with former Brumbies assistant Tony Rea.
Chewing the fat: Andy Friend with former Brumbies assistant Tony Rea. Photo: Stuart Walmsley

He found a home in Japan, first with Canon and now with powerhouse Suntory, with both clubs helping Friend fall back in love with rugby during his time abroad.

But the chance to return to Australia and take a shot at the Olympics was too good to pass up as Friend moves into the next phase of his coaching career.

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If Friend is locked in as the sevens coach, one of his major tasks will be deciding what role players, including Quade Cooper, Israel Folau and Bernard Foley, have in the Olympic build-up.

Former Wallabies playmaker Cooper has a deal with French giant Toulon that will allow him to juggle Top 14 duties and his sevens Rio ambitions.

The ARU is wary of parachuting players in for one-off tournaments or the Olympics at the expense of sevens specialists. Brumbies winger Henry Speight will make the Olympics his focus while also playing Super Rugby this year and he is now set to reunite with the coach who lured him to Australia.

Friend signed the then-unknown speedster Speight five years ago for the Brumbies and the Fijian flyer has developed into one of Australian rugby's best strike weapons.

Speight will play for Australia at the Sydney sevens on February 6-7, which could also double as Friend's first tournament depending on what arrangement is struck with Suntory.

The sevens players returned to their Narrabeen training base on Monday, with Friend to join them in the near future for their world series tournaments before the Olympic trip to Rio.

Friend was in charge of the Brumbies for the 2009 and 2010 seasons before being shown the door after the second game of the 2011 campaign.

News of his likely appointment came as the Brumbies returned to pre-season training on Monday, with coach Stephen Larkham whisking the Wallabies-laden squad to a Thredbo retreat to kickstart 2016.

Larkham has put negotiations on his own future on hold as he focuses on locking in David Pocock, Christian Lealiifano and Scott Sio to new deals in the capital.

Brumbies and Wallabies captain Stephen Moore has signed a deal to move to the Queensland Reds at the end of the year, while Matt Toomua will join Leicester.

World Cup flanker Scott Fardy insisted the off-season contract speculation and movement had done little to distract the Brumbies from their goal of ending a Super Rugby title drought.

"It's more of an exterior thing, the boys don't really care about it all too much. We understand how the game works and that guys will either move on or come here," Fardy said.

"We know that's where it sits as a professional sportsman. It happens every year, someone leaves and someone comes in. We've got some young guys who I'm excited to play with and seeing what they can do.

"It's always exciting at this time of year to see the guys coming through and taking the next step.

"If individual players can get things done nice and early then it's out of the way and they're settled. That benefits everyone. Guys have made their decisions, and that's the reality of the game at the moment with European and Japanese seasons.

"Clubs chase you earlier and earlier now. We can move on and use [the players] to the best of their abilities this year."