Stannard to lead Thunderbolts in sevens

Veteran playmaker James Stannard will showcase his rugby sevens worth as stand-in captain in Wellington before Australia rolls the dice with Quade Cooper at the inaugural Sydney 7s.

Stannard will lead a greenhorn Thunderbolts outfit in the third leg of the world series at Westpac Stadium this weekend, admitting he’s under pressure before Cooper’s international debut.

But the canny 32-year-old is backing himself to keep his long-held position for the Rio Olympics, and notes the Wallabies five-eighth will also be under the pump.

“It puts pressure on all the halves to succeed,” he told AAP from Wellington.

“There’s a bit of pressure on him as well. It’s a different sort of game.

“It’s a competitive bloody sport and no one is going to be laying down and dying.”

Stannard is one of just three regular Thunderbolts campaigners playing when Australia meets Portugal, Canada and Kenya in their Saturday pool matches.

Newly appointed coach Andy Friend has rested a large number of his senior players, including captain Ed Jenkins and game-breaking star Cam Clark, so they’re fresh for the Sydney tournament.

But those A-team plans have also been hit with Cooper’s French club, Toulon, delaying his return until Wednesday. This gives him only two training sessions to adapt to the high-energy game.

Stannard fully expects Cooper to be a hit but admits his short preparation time will cause disruptions and make life tough for combinations.

“If he can get some tournaments under his belt and see what it’s all about he’ll go well if he puts in the effort,” he said.

While Australia have been drawn in a friendlier pool than hosts New Zealand, who have a huge first-day clash against South Africa, Stannard says they won’t take any match lightly.

They face Portugal, Canada and Kenya but remember that rank outsiders Portugal ruined their 2015 season with a 12-10 upset in Japan in the penultimate round.

Despite the inexperienced nature of the seventh-placed Thunderbolts, Stannard says they’re aiming for their first tournament victory of the year.

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