Rugby Union

Sydney Sevens: Henry Speight reunites with Andy Friend six years after Brumbies meeting

Henry Speight still remembers the moment Andy Friend convinced him to join the ACT Brumbies.

Chasing gold: Henry Speight will play for Australia at Sydney Sevens on Saturday.
Chasing gold: Henry Speight will play for Australia at Sydney Sevens on Saturday. Photo: Getty Images

They were sitting in the airport in Auckland six years ago, and Speight was an unknown rugby talent on the fringes of New Zealand Super Rugby franchise the Waikato Chiefs.

When Friend landed back in Canberra, he called Speight with a contract offer to kickstart his Super Rugby career.

Familar face: Andy Friend recruited Henry Speight to the Brumbies for the 2011 season. Friend was sacked two games into ...
Familar face: Andy Friend recruited Henry Speight to the Brumbies for the 2011 season. Friend was sacked two games into the season. Photo: Richard Briggs

The last thing Fijian-born Speight expected was that a twist would lead to them teaming up again for an Olympic Games campaign with the Australian sevens team.

"It's come full circle ... it's crazy that Friendy is now at the helm of the sevens," Speight said.

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"Almost six years ago something I had never done was play Super Rugby, and he was the one who gave me my first contract.

"Now we're here and it's another first, we're aiming for the Olympic Games. It definitely feels like it's gone full circle, I'm looking forward to it and learning as much as I can.

"I remember the coffee we had at Auckland, he flew over for it and when he got back home, he called me a week later to offer me a deal. That's something I'll never forget.

"You always aim to be a Super Rugby player, and he's the man who offered me that. That stays with you."

Speight and Friend will start their sevens journey together in Sydney on Saturday.

The sold-out Sydney Sevens will provide the perfect arena for both to test their credentials as they aim towards Rio and a potential Olympic Games medal.

While former Wallabies playmaker Quade Cooper has been left out, Speight has been given his chance to impress as he juggles Super Rugby and sevens duties this year.

Friend has also picked Canberra duo Lewis Holland and Tom Cusack for the blockbuster tournament, which includes a clash against New Zealand's cross-code superstar Sonny Bill Williams.

Speight is excited to ramp up his sevens initiation after making his debut in Dubai at the end of last year.

Since then he has trained almost exclusively with the sevens to fast-track his development, and he will play only five games for the Brumbies this year as he targets the Olympics.

Speight was a two-game Super Rugby rookie when Friend was sacked by the Brumbies at the start of the 2011 season.

But he is back in Australian rugby after a stint in Japan, and is in charge of turning the Thunderbolts into medal contenders.

"The more time you can spend in sevens, the better. Time is invaluable, there's no substitute for that," Speight said.

"It's all about gaining the respect and trust of the other boys, to show that you're committed to the program.

"It's a steep learning curve, there's a chance to express yourself and show what you've got in a little bit of space. I'm excited by that. It's a long way from when I started with Friendy and met him for the first time in 2010."