Aus Sevens have golden ambitions
NEWS: An Australian men's Sevens side with both the belief and talent to bring home an historic Olympic gold medal from Rio has been named in Sydney just 22 days before the Opening Ceremony.
Australia's most capped player and team captain Ed Jenkins will be looking to lead his side to gold as the Sevens format makes its Olympic debut, 92 years since the XV-man format was last played at a Games.
Alongside Jenkins the likes of James Stannard, Cameron Clark and Pat McCutcheon bring a wealth of international experience while 2015/16 World Series Rookie of the Year Henry Hutchison and fellow young gun John Porch are a part of the new breed of Sevens stars set to shine on sport's greatest stage.
The Aussie team finished this season's World Series in fourth place – its best finish in six seasons – and go into Rio knowing that they have the side to challenge for a Rio podium.
"A gold medal has been our ambition for a while now and that was reinforced at the start of the year when Friendy [coach Andy Friend] came in to take over the side," Jenkins said.
"Looking at the team we have for Rio it will definitely be the strongest we have fielded all year."
The Australian side made two Cup Finals throughout the 2015-16 season, falling to New Zealand in Sydney and Fiji in Las Vegas, but the skipper believes his side has progressed well enough to challenge the likes of the Kiwis, Fijians and fellow tournament heavyweights South Africa.
"The team went really well this year and it gave a few guys a chance on the circuit which was great for the side's development," Jenkins added.
"We always had in the back of our minds that the Olympics was the one that we wanted to win this year so the World Series gave us the chance to build towards Rio and get everyone fit, healthy and ready to go."
While Jenkins lined up in the majority of tournaments throughout the season, Tom Cusack was watching on from the sidelines as he raced against the clock to return from a wrist injury. The 23-year-old is now back on the field and honoured to be off to Rio.
"It was a shock to have been given this opportunity," Cusack said.
"I've been coming back from an injury but my recovery has all gone perfectly and this will be my first major tournament coming back from that. To know I'm in the team is very pleasing, satisfying but also a relief."
While he has had little time on the field with the side, Cusack has keeping a keen eye on the side's likely opponents throughout the year and believes Australia has a challenging pool for the Rio Games.
"France have been getting better and better throughout the year with a host of handy players in their squad, Spain had to beat some tough teams to get the Final spot at the Games and South Africa have been fantastic all year and they finished second in the overall World Series.
"We have beaten South Africa and France during the most recent series so we take that as a notch in our belt heading into Rio."
Another forward who has had an unorthodox lead in to Rio has been Jesse Parahi. After a short stint in rugby league the lure of the Olympic Games dragged Parahi back to the sport where he has made a name for himself.
"I'm over the moon to be on the team," the 27-year-old who made his sevens debut in 2010 said. "It was a bitter pill to swallow knowing I'd given up the dream of playing at the Olympics.
"In the end, however, it has helped me get into this team as I was able to work on some of the weaker parts of my game before returning, so everything happens for a reason I guess."
The side recently went into camp in Darwin before starting this week with their final trial matches against Japan. Now Parahi and his teammates have a big week ahead as they finalise their preparations for Rio.
"After the mock Olympic tournament against the Japanese we now have an over-reaching week where we put a lot of kilometres into the legs through intensive training before we taper off," Parahi said.
The men's rugby sevens competition runs from Day Four (August 9) to Day Six (August 11) at the Deodoro Stadium.
Then last time Australia lined up in a rugby competition at an Olympic Games in 1908 in London where they competed as Australasia. The team was represented by the touring Wallabies side and they played Great Britain, who was represented by the Cornwall Rugby Club, in the one off match which Australasia won 32-3. Rugby was last played at the 1924 Games with the USA winning gold against France.
Australian Sevens Olympic squad: Cameron Clark, Tom Cusack, Allan Fa'alava'au, Con Foley, Lewis Holland, Henry Hutchison, Ed Jenkins, Nick Malouf, Pat McCutcheon, Jesse Parahi, John Porch, James Stannard.