James Haskell has become the latest star to indicate his willingness to represent Team GB at the Olympics saying the selectors should have “free rein” to pick who they want.
Currently, Team GB are the only top-tier nation who have yet to announce a marquee name with the likes of Sonny Bill Williams, Bryan Habana and Quade Cooper set to appear in Rio. However, Telegraph Sport understands that a number of British XV's internationals have been lined up to appear at a sevens training camp later this year.
Ben Foden, the Northampton full back who has a background in sevens, this weekend reiterated his ambition to target an Olympic place. Other players to have previously expressed an interest include George North, Danny Cipriani and Christian Wade.
At 18st 6lb, Haskell would make for an unlikely convert, however, the England flanker says an invitation would be hard to resist. “It would be unbelievable to play at the Olympics and an incredible dream,” Haskell said. “Listen, if Simon Amor ever picks up the phone and calls I would say ‘yeah’. Whether I would be in any shape to play sevens or whether I am past that, I don't know. It would be amazing.
“I think someone like Wadey would be unbelievable to have. I think there are some great players we have that are able to go and plays sevens. Every other country has picked some of their best. You have Sonny Bill and Quade Cooper. I think the sevens should have free rein on who they want to pick. You want to win the gold medal and Team GB winning gold would be sensational.”
There are numerous obstacles that would have to be overcome to select an established international player. A compensation package would have to be agreed with any Premiership club to secure the release for more than the two-week period mandated by World Rugby. Selection would also preclude their participation in their country’s summer tour.
However these are not hurdles that have mysteriously sprung up. New Zealand moved quickly to include World Cup winners Liam Messam and Williams in their squad for this year’s World Sevens Series. Australia and South Africa, meanwhile, had to negotiate with Toulon owner Mourad Boudjellal to gain release for Cooper and Habana, who have both played in the Series this year.
In contrast, the highest profile player that Simon Amor, who will coach Team GB, has been able to call upon beyond his band of specialists for England is Worcester’s Max Stelling. Heading into the Hong Kong Sevens this weekend, England are seventh in the standings with Wales and Scotland in 11th and 12th.
That such selection issues are being decided so close to the Games, which begin on August 6, was described as one interested player’s representative as an “utter shambles”. Even if the release of some household names is secured, Mike Friday, the former England coach now in charge of USA, says it would be too little, too late.
“Even in a best case scenario if they got to the end of the season and said you can have whoever you want then they are going to be knackered,” Friday said. “A ten-week conversion, which is what you would require them to do, off the back of a season of hell after the World Cup is not feasible. They are being set up to fail. They might have one great game but they are not going to have two or three on the spin which is what they are going to need at the Olympics.
“To get to where they are now is really tough because the people who will end up carrying the can are the coaches. It is not Simon’s fault, it is the people who sit above him. Who was responsible for putting this plan together four years ago? Whoever that is has failed miserably.”