Waratahs flanker Pat McCutcheon and sevens veteran Con Foley have returned to action to bolster a half-strength Australian side in their key warm-up to next month’s important Olympics qualifying tournament.
McCutcheon, who has juggled sevens and Super Rugby since winning a silver medal at the 2010 Commonwealth Games, will combine with utility Foley to lead the Thunderbolts at this weekend’s Central Coast Sevens.
Foley has recovered from a foot injury to replace Ed Jenkins who has been rested, along with five other senior players, for their last hit-out before the regional Olympic qualifier in Auckland.
Australia must win the eight-team Oceania tournament on November 14-15 to make the Rio Games.
Although both New Zealand and Fiji have already qualified for rugby’s return to the Olympics, Samoa stands as a tough rival to overcome in the two-day Auckland competition.
Australia, still yet to appoint a full-time coach following the departure of Welshman Geraint John, have prepared for both tournaments under national women’s coach Tim Walsh.
Walsh said this weekend’s tournament – featuring teams from New Zealand, Fiji and the United States – was important to ensure the Thunderbolts were in top shape to secure an Olympic spot in 2015.
If they fail in Auckland, Australia will be left with a final cut-throat assignment – winning a 12-nation qualifier next year.
As well as Jenkins, he has chosen to rest core players Jesse Parahi, Pama Fou, Tom Lucas and Lewis Holland, while leading light Cameron Clark is recovering from a hamstring injury.
Teenage prodigy Henry Hutchison has a chance to impress as well as injury-plagued league convert Shannon Walker.
“The Thunderbolts squad we’ve chosen for the tournament provides us with good squad balance and a nice blend of youth and experience,” Walsh said.
“Everything we do as a group at the moment is ensuring we are in the best possible shape come the Olympic qualifier next month.”
Australia: Con Foley (capt), Tom Cusack, Allan Fa’alava’au, Henry Hutchison, Greg Jeloudev, Boyd Killingworth, Pat McCutcheon, Sam Myers, Peter Schuster, James Stannard, Shannon Walker, Michael Wells.