Ben Foden has become the first high profile British rugby player to stake his claim for a place in Team GB at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, but rugby’s introduction into the Games could result in major absentees from both club rugby and the 2016 Six Nations.
Foden, a former England sevens star, was live at the Olympic Stadium to watch Usain Bolt reclaim his 100 metres crown and Christine Ohuruogu take silver in the women’s 400 metres.
The experience has not only whetted his appetite for the 2015 Rugby World Cup, which will be staged in England, but also the Rio Games the following summer.
“If we win the World Cup I’d bend over backwards to try and make the Olympic team,” he admits. “I’d do whatever it takes.”
The Northampton and England full back reveals that he has already been in discussion with the England sevens set-up.
“I’ve been tapping up (coaches) Ben Ryan and Mike Friday,” the 27-year-old says. “Who wouldn’t want to play in the Olympics? It would be a once in a lifetime experience. I’d be keen to do some extra training at any time. I know for a fact that quite a few of the England boys would want to do the same.”
This may not be the best news for the regular England sevens players who tour the world playing on the international sevens circuit.
“I understand the question is do you pick guys who have been playing sevens for five years or five minutes,” Foden adds. “I’d be the first to admit that sevens is a different game to the XV a side version. The levels of fitness go up another level.
“But does Team GB want to field its best players to try and win a gold medal? I’d argue that the guys who play full-time sevens would play for an Aviva Premiership club if they could. The solution would be to have a training camp with 30 or 40 players from both XV a side and sevens and whittle the numbers down to the final Olympic squad.”
Apart from the fact that it will be a team representing Britain and not England – and that means a head coach appointed and Ulster players deciding on whether they want to play for Team GB or Ireland in Rio – the other problem here is how top players can find the time to play sevens.
Foden suggests there could be a major upheaval after the World Cup.
“The Olympics will come into everyone’s considerations and negotiations when they sit down to discuss new contracts,” he said. “Whether the clubs will be in agreement to release us is another thing.”
According to RFU sources the effect of preparing for the Games could be more far-reaching than that.
“It could be that players take season sabbaticals from their clubs in order to devote themselves to fighting for a place in Team GB,” said a well-placed source. “The best players would have played in the world cup in any case so they would already have missed a large chunk of the season.
“They’d have to play in some of the sevens tournaments because they can’t just rock up in June and expect to be picked.
“This could mean they’d have to miss the Six Nations as well. It’s all up in the air at the moment but it will need to be resolved.”
Foden will miss the autumn internationals after damaging his ankle ligaments but expects to be back playing by Christmas.