Irish Sevens coach James Topping has flung the door open for those World Cup 15s players who would like the chance of winning an Olympic medal next year in Paris.
The Irish men’s side (and women) have already qualified for the Games, while Topping has discussed the matter of 15s players joining the Sevens’ programme with IRFU performance director David Nucifora.
Several Irish professional players came into the 15s game from Sevens including World Cup picks Hugo Keenan and Jimmy O’Brien. Ulster’s Nick Timoney and Munster’s Shane Daly were also graduates of the shorter version of the game.
French 15s captain and former World Player of the Year, Antoine Dupont, who declared last week that he would be playing for the French Sevens team and miss next year’s Six Nations, has opened up the possibility of other players foregoing that tournament in the hope of being among the first Irish men to win a Sevens’ medal at an Olympic Games.
“No. No. Absolutely not,” said Topping when asked if he would rule out players making the cross over.
“Always I have lots of phone calls coming in from guys who are keen to have a crack. But yeah, if something can be worked with some of them, probably more so the guys who have been involved before.
“I imagine he [David Nucifora] would talk to the players. Talk to probably Andy Farrell, first of all. Talk to the provinces and sort of gauge what their reaction would be.”
Topping singled out Irish fullback Keenan as a player who could make it across without struggling in the transition as he came from Sevens originally before breaking in to the Irish team as first choice fullback. The re-engineering of this skill set would be easier for him than for players who did not come through the programme.
The Olympic tournament takes place in Stade de France, from July 24th to 30th.
“If you watch the way he [Keenan] plays it’s all go, it’s all work,” said Topping. “He tackles. He is in action around the ball the whole time. So, him, Jimmy O’Brien, Rob Baloucoune and Shane Daly would be some of the guys who have come though our programme.
“Couple of forwards as well, Nick Timoney. They’ve got that knowledge grounded in them already which would be an easy transition. The other guys, yep I’m sure they’d be able to handle it. But we’ve got to make sure they bring something to the programme in that time.”
While Dupont’s decision marks a massive shift in this hemisphere towards highlighting the Olympic version of the game, other nations including Rio champions Fiji have been mixing 15s and Sevens players for years. One constraint is any Irish players who wish to make the switch must decide soon.
“I think any team now, every union will be looking at that and saying ‘okay right, who have we got who’s interested’,” says Topping. “The fact that him [Dupont] and a few other guys have put their hand up . . . it’s their home Olympics but maybe for us, it’s our home Olympics as well.
“New Zealand, I’m sure, you’ve got Australians as well. I’m sure a lot of those Fijian guys who’ve played in the past and maybe went away for the last two years to play in France and play national 15-a-side will all be returning back to their squads throughout this year.”
The Sevens World Series begins at the start of December in Dubai and ends in Madrid on June 2nd.