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Olympic coach’s frustration in tug-of-war over star

Australian men’s sevens coach John Manenti has expressed frustration that Brumbies flyer Corey Toole was not released to play for his country at the Perth Sevens.

Rebels winger Darby Lancaster was granted leave to play for Australia at the three day tournament and was one of the better performers for an improving side that finished runners-up to Argentina on Sunday.

Toole, one of the fastest players in Australia, kickstarted his career on the sevens world series before delivering a breakout Super Rugby campaign last year.

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The 23-year-old was unlucky not to make his Wallabies debut under Eddie Jones and Manenti would love to unleash him at the Paris Olympics if Toole is again overlooked by new Test coach Joe Schmidt.

But Manenti was resigned to not getting any access to Toole until the end of the season.

“The Brumbies are keen to obviously have him and he’d like to push at the Wallabies,” Manenti said.

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“So I dare say until the end of the Super season, we unfortunately won’t get a chance to look at him like Darby. But we’ve got a bit of time post Super – if he’s not picked for the Wallabies – to give him some exposure. It’s not the end of the world but it’s obviously not our perfect plan.”

Manenti argued that Toole would have benefited more from playing sevens in front of a sold out HBF Park than another week of preseason training at the Brumbies, who are coached by Wallabies legend Stephen Larkham.

“Understandably the Super clubs have got to be on board with it and they’re all under their own pressures with different things. They’re pretty keen to hold their players tight.

“But Darby Lancaster could have been training down at Melbourne or he’s come here and played in front of 20,000 people and expressed himself and got great experience in rugby. It would have been brilliant to see Corey getting the same opportunity because you can’t replicate matches, you can’t replicate game pressure.

“All the same skills are on show (in sevens), probably just heightened with the speed and the intensity and the space. In a perfect world we’d have a bit more understanding from the franchises but I do understand they’ve all got their own patch of turf to defend.”

Australia are one of the most courageous teams in the world series but they are undersized against most of the leading nations.

Manenti conceded he was asking “an enormous amount” of Nick Malouf and Nathan Lawson to play virtually every minute of every game.

The impending returns from injury of Michael Icely, Henry Paterson and “a bloke called Michael Hooper” would share the load and “add a bit more grunt.”

Hooper’s introduction after a training setback would have to be carefully managed.

The 32-year-old desperately needs time in the saddle in the new format but another injury could be devastating to his Olympic dream.

The next two legs are in Vancouver (February 23-25) and Los Angeles (March 2-3).

“Back to back tournaments, probably not the time to start him,” Manenti told Wide World of Sports.

“But I’ll let the S and C (strength and conditioning staff) and the physio direct me. We know his footy class, he’s been around the group a bit now and he’ll pick up the footy components quite easily. But obviously athletically we want him right.”

Meanwhile, Rugby Australia chief executive Phil Waugh described the Perth tournament as “pretty special.”

The men and women both made their final and fans flooded in. 

“It’s important to go deep in your own events, really important,” Waugh told WWOS.

“We’re well invested into the women’s game on the sevens side and now the men’s side will attract more and more of the professional players who want to be a part of it, particularly over the Olympic years. So it’s very exciting.

“It’s no secret 2023 was a pretty difficult year. So to kick off 2024 like this is really important and then just the energy that’s around the stadium. It’s really important to create a a vibrant and financially sustainable market here in the west. And it’s certainly doing that. This is a new product and a new format which hasn’t been brought to the west before.”


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