The biggest sporting event in the world has lured perhaps the biggest name in rugby to a temporary code switch, but new Hurricanes and former All Blacks Sevens coach Clark Laidlaw says don’t expect any big-name Kiwis to follow in Antoine Dupont’s footsteps.
Dupont, a former World Player of the Year in 15s, has recently linked up with the French Sevens side ahead of what is expected to be his SVNS debut in Vancouver next month.
Former Wallabies skipper Michael Hooper is on track to debut at the Perth SVNS event later this month, both players eager to impress and find their feet in the game ahead of the Olympics in July.
Dupont’s decision to jump the 15s ship while seemingly at the peak of his powers, despite the obvious appeal of competing at home at the olympics, caught many off guard.
“Does it surprise me? Probably,” Laidlaw told Stuff. “The Olympics is the biggest sporting event in the world.
“I often think of New Zealand as the one country where players could do both and genuinely win a World Cup in 15s and Olympic gold in sevens, and I’m sure there are some young players floating around who are starting to think like that.
“But if we’re being brutally honest, the money is in 15s. The chance to play [for clubs] in Japan and France is in 15s, and that’s not going to change. It’s probably going to be smaller pockets of individuals who choose to try and do both.”
Laidlaw says the Rugby World Cup and Olympics both being quadrennial tournaments should make the possibility of playing in both more appealing for players.
“The cycle actually works quite well because if you’re an established All Black, you go to the World Cup and the next year is the Olympics, and some of the French stars are going to switch over and try to win a home Olympics.
“I’d like to think in the future that players would do that, but ultimately, in the traditional rugby countries, they still see 15s as the pinnacle.
“Certainly, before Tokyo we spoke to a number of players but it’s a lot of energy and effort and there’s another side of that coin too, that for every player that comes across there’s a player in your squad now who doesn’t make the Olympic team.
“If players commit for the right reasons and the right length of time, it’s a positive. But dropping them in at the last minute, I was not a fan of that, because the day after the Olympics the sun comes up and you go back to the World Series.”
A number of current and recent All Blacks have spent time on the sevens circuit prior to reaching their prime in 15s. Players like the Ioane brothers, Ardie Savea, Sonny Bill Williams and most recently, Caleb Clarke.
Clarke is a player certainly not lacking in talent, however, when push came to shove ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, Laidlaw opted to select the young Blues winger as a travelling reserve.
“It felt like we didn’t have enough contact with Caleb through the year, because he’s an outstanding sevens player and rugby player and when he left us, he kicked on and became an All Black.
“We learnt a lot of lessons around the contact you have with the player, what you do when they transition in to get them back up to speed quicker. We felt when we reviewed that process that it was on us, it wasn’t on Caleb.
“Other players stepped up who can play a similar type of role in the time he was back in Super Rugby and that’s my point around when they transition.”
As for the transition of Dupont, Laidlaw says the sky is the limit for a player of the halfback’s talent. And, after a Rugby World Cup which saw Dupont’s face on every building from Paris to Marseille, the presence of rugby’s poster-boy adds further hype to the event.
“If we go top-five players in the world, then he’s in there, isn’t he?
“He’s an amazing rugby player and I can’t see how he will not be good at sevens, especially if he’s committing to the year with France.
“It’s huge for the game and huge for the Olympics. I’m sure the marketing teams in France will be rubbing their hands.”