Quade Cooper is already talking about becoming an Olympian but a treacherous path to Rio is about to become abundantly clear for any Wallabies with five-ringed aspirations.
Australia’s hopes of qualifying for rugby sevens action at the 2016 Olympic Games face their acid test next weekend (November 14-15) when they contest the Oceania Regional qualifying tournament in Auckland.
Caretaker coach Tim Walsh, who has already guided Australia’s women’s team to a Rio berth, will announce a full-strength squad for the eight-nation tournament on Monday, including game-breaking star Cameron Clark in his return from injury.
Not only will all 12 sevens specialists be looking to secure qualification for the world No.5-ranked Thunderbolts, who face a tough rival in Samoa, they will also aim to put a down payment on their own Olympic selection hopes.
Since rugby was admitted to the Olympics, Wallabies players such as Cooper, Israel Folau and Michael Hooper have been feted as star recruits.
But Walsh admits it won’t be easy for even the most talented Wallabies – especially with the prospect of France-based Cooper and Brumbies flyer Henry Speight likely to only be released for just three tournaments on the world series circuit.
In contrast, Sonny Bill Williams and fellow All Black Liam Messam will play the entire season with New Zealand’s sevens team.
A member of Australia’s 2002 Commonwealth Games team, Walsh won’t rule any Wallabies out from making the leap, even with Rio only 10 months away, but stressed it was uncharted territory for 15s players.
“The current (Thunderbolts) boys are hardened three to four-year veterans on the circuit and have been there and done that,” he told AAP.
“In sevens the laws are so much more magnified and you also have to adapt to the style of play.”
Former national coach Michael O’Connor offered a more dire warning when he finished his six-season tenure last year, stating only Folau and Hooper had the talent to make Olympic selection with a minimum four-tournament build-up.
Speight has been granted a Super Rugby release for three tournaments – Sydney, Hong Kong and London – while nothing has been assured for Cooper, who reiterated his Games dreams on signing with Toulon on Wednesday.
An Australian Rugby Union spokesman said it was positive that Toulon were prepared to release the 58-Test five-eighth but stressed nothing had been agreed.
Despite speculation Wallabies will take the places of loyal sevens servants, Walsh denied Thunderbolts players were bitter about the potential prospect.
“They want the best possible players in the team and they want to be challenged,” he said.
“They’re on the front foot – they know sevens and they’re already here.”