Quade Cooper says Israel Folau has the attributes to play sevens at the Olympics and Australian coach Tim Walsh says he’d be happy with the star juggling sevens and Super Rugby in 2020.
Folau expressed interest in making himself available for the Aussie men’s sevens team in Tokyo next year in an interview with the Daily Telegraph on Wednesday, saying: “There’s no doubt the experience would be unreal. I’d definitely want to put my hand up to see if that opportunity (arose).”
The Wallabies fullback has a history of never shutting the door publicly on any option in footy but should Folau be serious about sevens, Cooper believes he could make the switch.
The Rebels playmaker knows exactly how tough it is, having attempted to cross formats and make the Aussie men’s sevens team for the 2016 Rio Olympics.
“Izzy is a phenomenal athlete so I wouldn’t put it past him, in terms of being able to do it,” Cooper said.
“He has played rugby league, AFL and 15s, and with the possibility of him playing sevens. I am sure he has all the attributes to be a great player there.”
Walsh, who is currently with the Australian sevens team in Vancouver, welcomed the news and told RUGBY.com.au while Folau would have to spend time in the program to make the switch, he wouldn’t have to give up Super Rugby with the Waratahs.
“It’s great to hear he is interested,” Walsh said in an email from Canada.
“It would would be nice to have for at least 6 tournaments (don’t all have to be World Series) but all depends on how we would use him and how quickly he picks up the game.”
Converting from 15s to sevens is no easy task.
Cooper tried to juggle playing for Toulon with training and playing for the Aussie sevens team in 2016, and he played in two tournaments before being informed he wasn’t in the frame for Olympic selection.
Henry Speight also tried to juggle both Super Rugby and sevens in 2016 and also missed selection for the Games.
Only Sonny Bill Williams and Liam Messam ended up playing for New Zealand in Rio.
“It is a different transition. It is one of the transitions I thought would be a lot easier than it was. It is quite difficult but in saying that, it’s still rugby,” Cooper said.
“Once you understand the technical side of it, it is a very easy game and a simple game but athletically it is very tough on the body.
“There is a hell of a lot of running, there are a lot of repeat sprints. In 15s you have a lot of sprints but not necessarily back to back. I think that will be the biggest work on for him. I am sure he would pick that up easy.”
Former Australian sevens captain Bernard Foley also said Folau has the physical attributes to play the game, and that his time in AFL showed he could transform into an endurance athlete.
“He would be a genuine asset in that game,” he said.
“With endurance, it’s a different fitness, so he’d have to do some work but he has experienced before I suppose, through his AFL.
“You look at a game of sevens, beating defenders and the kickoffs and re-starts are such a vital aspect of the game, he has abilities in the air and if you give him time and space, he’d be pretty hard to stop.”
Foley believes his sevens days are behind him but Cooper, who is off contract at the end of the season, says he too would still be keen in exploring another shot at making the Olympics.
“It definitely would be something I would be interested in,” he told RUGBY.com.au.
“I had a little crack at it (in 2016) but I couldn’t get my Australian citizenship. If they give me my Australian citizenship, then we will look at that.”
Cooper travels on a New Zealand passport and said in 2016 that his Olympic chances were scuttled by an inability to spend 90 consecutive days in Australia ahead of a citizenship process.
But Rugby Australia said at the time Cooper’s omission was on form and his citizenship could have been fast-tracked in an Olympic year.
With no contract for 2020, however, Cooper would potentially be free play sevens all year and gain Australian citizenship and Walsh could do with more experienced playmakers in his squad.