Wellington – All Black Liam Messam is considering switching to Sevens rugby as the chance to win Olympic gold threatens to lure players from the 15-a-side ranks for the 2016 Rio Games.
Code-hopping former All Black Sonny Bill Williams, who has crossed back to rugby league, is also reported to be planning a return to union in time to try out for the New Zealand squad heading to the Olympics.
The shortened form of the game becomes a full medal sport in Rio, a year after the next Rugby World Cup in England.
“It's something that's definitely on my bucket list. It'll be pretty cool to try and compete for an Olympic gold medal, and Sevens is close to my heart and it always will be,” Messam said on Wednesday.
New Zealand coach Gordon Tietjens, who has steered his side to victory in 10 of the 13 IRB Sevens World Series, has already begun assembling a core group of players to form the nucleus of a potential Olympic squad.
He has also won approval from the New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) to raid Super 15 sides and take one player from each of the five New Zealand franchises to this year's Sevens world cup in June.
The NZRU has told New Zealand's elite players that if they want to go to the Olympics they will not be allowed to play Super or Test rugby in 2016.
“Come 2016 we want to provide opportunities for Super rugby players and All Blacks should they choose to have a crack at Sevens to be in the frame to go to Rio,” NZRU high performance manager Don Tricker said.
“What that means in 2016 is complete immersion in Sevens, so they will not be playing in any other forms of the game in that one year.”
Messam, who won Commonwealth Games gold medals in 2006 and 2010 with the New Zealand Sevens team, said he has already discussed with his family and manager the possibility of returning to the shortened form of the game.
Although he would be 32 in 2016, Messam does not believe age will count against him.
“If I was to go to the Olympics then I'd definitely have a full year of Sevens, try and do the circuit or something like that and try and get back to Sevens fitness because it is totally different fitness,” he said.
Fairfax Media said it understood former All Blacks midfielder Williams wants to return to union in time to challenge for a place in the All Blacks 2015 World Cup squad before switching to Sevens for the Olympics.
Williams, who also dabbles as a professional boxer, would not elaborate on his long-term plans other than to say that when he retired “I just want to say I have tried lots of things, and I've done as well as I can”. – Sapa-AFP