Michael O’Connor has quit his post as Sevens rugby coach but says the move to fulltime professionalism will help Australia win a medal at the Olympics.
Australia’s attempt to catch up with the professionalism of rival Sevens Rugby nations has cost them their coach in the lead-up to the sport’s Olympics debut.
Dual international Michael O’Connor announced on Tuesday he’s quitting after six years in charge of the Australian men’s team, and the ARU will now start an extensive search for his replacement less than six months out from the Commonwealth Games.
In preparation for next year’s qualification period for the 2016 Rio Olympics, the ARU in January changed the Sevens to a fulltime program based at Narrabeen on Sydney’s northern beaches.
O’Connor is confident that increase in professionalism will quickly bring Australia up to speed with the likes of New Zealand and South Africa.
However he said the shift was going to mean too much time away from his family in Queensland.
The 54-year-old felt he wouldn’t do his group of young players justice by staying in the role, however he believes results will prove over the coming years that the move towards professionalism is worth it.
O’Connor said the average age of the Australian team was 22, and they had been punching above their weight against rivals who are older and have been involved in centralised programs for several years.
He also said the advent of the Western Force and then the Melbourne Rebels in the Super Rugby competition had a major affect on player depth.
However, O’Connor said his side should be peaking at the time of the Olympics.
Australia are ranked fifth on the IRB Sevens table but O’Connor is confident they can challenge for a medal in Rio.
“We’ve had the youngest team in the IRB for the last five years but now we’re able to hold onto them and we’re contracting not just for one year but two and three years. For the first time collectively as a team we’re over 100 caps,” he said.
“We’re catching up to other countries. You’ll see big improvements for these boys in the next couple of years.
“Physically, they’ve developed a lot. The team work is starting to come together, the game understanding and just living together (in Sydney) will make a massive difference.
“I’ve seen what it’s done in South Africa and we’ve got very similar athletes. There’s no reason why we can’t enjoy that success as well.”
O’Connor denied he was pushed and said the ARU actually urged him to reconsider his resignation.
“I would have loved to have followed through to 2016, but the reality is now the program is in Sydney fulltime, it’s just too big a shift and too much time away,” he said.
Waratahs five-eighth and former Sevens star Bernard Foley paid tribute to O’Connor.
“It’s sad but I suppose it’s another era for the Sevens. Hopefully whoever they choose can take them to the Olympics,” Foley said.
“Snoz has rebuilt the Sevens program in getting it to where it’s today. He was a really good man manager.
“I was lucky enough to be coached under him for two years … he’s blooded a lot of young blokes for Super Rugby and Wallabies as well.”