French club Toulon is again making life tricky for Australia’s rugby sevens squad as they wait to learn whether Quade Cooper is available for their final two world series tournaments.
Injury-hit Australia are sweating on having Cooper bolster their playmaking stocks this month in one or both of the Paris and London tournaments in a critical late audition for Olympic selection at the Rio Games.
Although Andy Friend’s squad will be boosted by the return of fellow Wallabies back Nick Cummins, teenage speedster Henry Hutchison and strike weapon Pama Fou, the 58-Test five-eighth is a key piece in the selection puzzle.
Cooper has already played two tournaments – in Las Vegas and Vancouver in March – on top of being released by Toulon to travel home for the Sydney Sevens, where he was a frustrated spectator in February.
According to the three-tournament agreement he and the Australian Rugby Union struck with the French club then, Cooper should be released for at least one more leg of the world series, which has Australia sitting fourth after eight rounds.
Friend admitted discussions were ongoing with Toulon and he was waiting on a resolution before this week naming his 12-man squad for the May 14-15 Paris tournament.
“We’re just waiting on responses back and it’s all in a holding situation at the moment,” the coach told AAP.
With in-form playmaker Lewis Holland and Tom Lucas both ruled out for the rest of the series due to injury, Australia would be without a specialist five-eighth if Cooper can’t play.
Friend has trialled utility Allan Fa’alava’au, Josh Holmes, John Porch and game-breaking centre Cameron Clark in the position but sees them more as back-ups.
“We definitely have a few blokes who can fill that role but Lewy’s absence exposes us further,” he said.
Friend said Cooper needed more time in the sevens pressure-cooker to deserve Olympic selection.
“He needs time in the program (to adapt from 15s),” he said.
“The more I see it the more I appreciate how specialised this game is and how unique these athletes are and it definitely does take time.”
“They’re all things that as we head into Rio that we have to make decisions on.”
A full team of currently injured players, including Holland and Wallabies flyer Henry Speight, will also get a late Olympics audition in a three-day series against a national development squad next month.