Big names could switch to sevens in pursuit of Olympic gold - O'Driscoll

Ireland rugby legend Brian O'Driscoll believes the lure of an Olympic gold medal could see more players swap the 15-a-side game for sevens in future.

The men's 2018-19 HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series gets under way in Dubai on Friday, with four places at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo up for grabs over the course of the campaign.

Sonny Bill Williams was the highest-profile player to make the switch when sevens made its Olympic debut in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, although an early injury curtailed his involvement in a tournament won by Fiji.

O'Driscoll expects more players to try their hand at the format in the years to come but says success in XVs rugby offers little indication of a player's aptitude for sevens.

"That happened in 2015, when Sonny Bill Williams was really the only player who had any success with it," HSBC global rugby sevens ambassador O'Driscoll told Omnisport. "Unfortunately he tore his Achilles about two minutes into the tournament.

"We had other players like Quade Cooper, Liam Messam and even Bryan Habana, who found the transition too difficult.

"There's a different level of fitness needed and I think it was a huge tip of the cap to those playing on the sevens circuit that it's not just a case of anyone being able to move across and play with seamlessness.

"It's a different type of game with the need for a different type of fitness and a different skill set.

"I do feel as though we will have more players who will try to make that transition. Whether they'll be successful in doing so, we'll just have to wait and see."

Habana, who missed out on selection for South Africa's squad for the 2016 Games, argued that the involvement of big-name XVs players could prove more of a hindrance than a help.

"I'm not sure we'll see more of it but I think we'll see individual cases," he added. "But as we saw leading up to 2016, a lot of the sevens coaches saw it as a bit of a disruption more than anything else.

"You'll have certain instances, but it won't be a group of 10 or 15 Super Rugby or Premiership players trying to come up and play the game of sevens."

Discussing the players setting out on their HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series campaign this weekend, O'Driscoll commented: "They don't need any more motivation than playing for the series finale and to be the series winner.

"But when you have that carrot of being part of an Olympics in two years' time and you get an opportunity to represent your country and maybe win an Olympic gold medal - something very few people have the opportunity to do - there's no further motivation needed than that."

Brian O'Driscoll and Bryan Habana are HSBC global rugby sevens ambassadors. They are working alongside HSBC to support the explosive growth of rugby sevens, helping the exciting and unpredictable sport thrive all over the world. Follow all the action at @HSBC_Sport on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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