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Stars set to align for rugby in Rio

31 July 2016

RUGBY SEVENS: With the Wallabies whitewashed by England in June and all Australian Super Rugby hopes extinguished in disappointing fashion earlier this month, the code is in need of a feel good story.

Step forward the Greatest Show on Earth featuring the Australian Rugby Sevens teams.

And while veteran forward Pat McCutcheon doesn’t believe the game is in poor shape in Australia, he does agree that this is the prime time for Sevens to shine.

“Personally, I don’t think it’s time for Australian rugby to panic,” explains McCutcheon.

“It’s less than 12 months since the Wallabies reached the Rugby World Cup Final and in 2014 the Waratahs won the Super Rugby title. I don’t think the sport is in a bad state, just maybe the tide has turned against us a little lately.

“That said, it’s a good opportunity for both men’s and women’s sevens sides in Rio to put their hands up, stand up and put themselves right up there in the next couple of weeks.”

But does the 29-year-old think his team-mates have the ability to perform at such an occasion?

“Absolutely. I think we’ve seen throughout the year that the team has put in some really quality performances and to be in the top four in Sydney, Vegas, Vancouver and Hong Kong – those performances proved we could play on the very top stage. I think this team has it in them to bring back gold.

“We’re making our own history and that consistency has really come on since the program went full-time. In previous years we were ranked seventh, eighth and ninth and now we’re ranked fourth. We had four consecutive semi-finals this season – the first time Australia achieved that feat in 15 years - and we’re starting to see dividends from centralising that program.”

Speaking from the team’s training camp at the Portobello Resort 100kms south of Rio de Janeiro, he also revealed his fitness for the Olympics had been in question since the six-match series against Japan in Sydney earlier this month.

“It’s probably not known to the public but I had a minor tear to my hamstring against Japan which put me in a little bit of doubt and gave me a fair amount of anxiety,” revealed the former Wallaby squad member.

“But [Head of Athletic Performance] Nick Poulos and [Head of Performance Science and Rehabilitation] Simon Harries have put me through a pretty strict rehab program and I had to meet certain goals to make sure I am available to play.

“There aren’t any issues with the hamstring now.”

And with McCutcheon’s availability in the final squad that will play at Deodoro Stadium comes leadership and experience.

“Hopefully those traits bring a real point of difference. I was fortunate to win a silver medal at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi as well as a Super Rugby title with the Waratahs and those big moments in big matches add a feather in your cap. If I can pass on my knowledge to the younger boys in the group then my job will have been done.

“12 months ago when I was turning out for the Sydney Stars in the National Rugby Championship, Sevens wasn’t even on my radar. I’m very grateful to be given this opportunity but it’s also been a lot of hard work.

“As I’ve said before, these boys are specialist athletes.  We’ve seen throughout the year that Super Rugby players have tried to transition across but have really struggled with it. I’ll put my hand up and say I struggled too at first but I feel I gave myself the best possible chance by joining full-time last September, rather than, say March.”

When it was announced that McCutcheon, who played 35 times in Super Rugby for the Waratahs, had been selected in Andy Friend’s 12-man squad for Rugby Sevens debut at the Summer Olympics he made the front page of his local newspaper in the small farming town of Narromine, population 3,800.

“It doesn’t get much better than that!” chuckles McCutcheon.

“Seriously though, I’m proud to say I come from Narromine, a small town in the central west. The town has been lucky enough to have had athletes compete in two or three Olympic Games and I’m keen to prove that there are opportunities in rugby union for kids growing up in the bush.”

Australia kicks off its campaign against France in Pool B at midnight on 10 August (AEST), followed by games against Spain and South Africa.

Steve Stammers

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