Continuity, experience and raw speed: Australia’s 7s squad named ahead of Olympic campaign as Hooper inches closer for debut

Former Wallabies skipper Michael Hooper is set to make his rugby sevens debut in Perth in January after being official confirmed in the Australian men’s squad.

After being overlooked for the Wallabies’ disastrous Rugby World Cup campaign earlier this year, the 125-Test veteran set his sights on a new challenge and is targeting a spot in the sevens team for 2024 Olympics in Paris.

Now 32, Hooper, who has only played in one sevens tournament as a teenager, will spend the next few months getting up to speed and will miss the first two rounds of the World Sevens Series in Dubai (December 2-3) and Cape Town (December 9-10).

The former flanker is set to make his first appearance in the third round in Perth from January 26-28.

Aussie men’s Sevens coach John Manenti with Michael Hooper. (Photo by Nicholas Ward/ Rugby Australia)

The 16-man Australian squad, named on Tuesday, will use the season to prepare for the Paris Olympics in July, after qualifying earlier this year.

Nick Malouf has returned as captain following an injury-disrupted 2022-23 season, while Henry Hutchison is back after almost a year sidelined with a knee injury.

Ben Dowling will chase Olympic selection after a season with the NSW Waratahs while impressive winger Hadley Tonga is fresh into the program after recently finishing year 12.

Tonga is set to miss next month’s opening legs of the tour in Dubai and Cape Town, but the Waratahs signed teenage sensation ran the 100m in less than 11 seconds at school. Fellow flyer Henry Palmer, who is one of five development players in the wider squad, is another to look out for.

King’s School outside back Hadley Tonga has signed a three-year deal with Australia’s sevens team. Photo: Instagram

Queenslander Hayden Sargeant, who made his debut in round six in Los Angeles this year, and Michael Icely, who won the 2023 Ken Catchpole award as best player in Sydney’s Shute Shield, have both been included on full-time contracts for the first time.

“I am thrilled with the group we have,” coach John Manenti said in a statement. 

“We are starting to build some real consistency with the core of the group, while adding quality through some new faces.

“I am over the moon to be able to welcome back Henry Hutchison into the playing squad – an ACL injury always tests a player’s resolve to come back, and Hutch’has worked his tail off to get back.

“Hadley is one of the most exciting young players in rugby – he is super-fast and extremely elusive. He’s only young, but I think he can make a real impact this year.”

In a revamped competition, the squad will play eight rounds of the world series with the last in Madrid from May 31 to June 2, which is a “winner takes all” final as well as a promotion-relegation battle for the bottom four teams.

The 12-nation competition will be cut to eight after the penultimate round in Singapore from May 3-5, with those teams playing the top four of the second-tier challenger series to win a place in the major league. 

The Australian men finished fifth in the 2022-23 standings, with New Zealand crowned champions.

Australian men’s sevens squad: Ben Dowling, Dally Bird, Dietrich Roache, Hadley Tonga, Hayden Sargeant, Henry Hutchison, Henry Paterson, James Turner, Josh Turner, Matt Gonzalez, Maurice Longbottom, Michael Hooper, Michael Icely, Nathan Lawson, Nick Malouf (c), Tim Clements.

With staff writers

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