Friday Rugby Five: Olympics an 'option' for Wallabies' Hooper, Aumua switch divides

It's been another week of news around the rugby world. Catch up with some of the stories you might have missed in our Friday Five.


Australia's last-gasp automatic qualification for the Paris Olympics came as a huge relief to coach John Manenti and his playing group, who waited until their final game of the World Series to book their place in the 12-team field next year.

While the Aussies would have been favoured to emerge from regional qualifying next year - or at worst a repechage event - knowing their place has already been secured 14 months out from the Olympics is a huge advantage for the program as it allows Manenti and his assistants the opportunity to plan out their run to France.

And it appears Australia will have a broad talent pool from which to choose, with several 15s players likely to consider a switch to sevens to add an Olympic Games to their Super Rugby, Test and World Cup resumes.

Certainly that appears to be the case with former Wallabies captain Michael Hooper, who was this week again linked with a switch to sevens, after previously flagging his interest last year. Hooper is tipped to call time on his Test career after this year's World Cup, but at 31 is anything but an old hand who is simply ready to hang up the boots.

A senior Australian sevens source confirmed to ESPN that Hooper had sounded out the program, but that the veteran flanker was also likely to field other opportunities from around the world.

While an inflated pay cheque in either Japanese or European rugby may also appeal, an Olympic Games would truly cement Hooper's place in the pantheon of Australian rugby greats, particularly if he was able to help fire the team to a maiden medal.

There are precedents for such switches, too, with Wallabies Samu Kerevi and Mark Nawaqanitawase having both earned selection at last year's Commonwealth Games, while Sonny Bill Williams was a high-profile convert in Rio in 2016.

Australia's men's team are yet to advance beyond the quarterfinals at the Olympics, but have improved significantly under Manenti in recent years, winning the 2021/22 World Series before ending their long championship drought in Hong Kong en route to a fifth place finish this season.

Hooper, meanwhile, will be farewelled by the Waratahs next week in front of his home crowd, the 2014 Super Rugby winning captain to play his final game in blue in Sydney when NSW face Moana Pasifika on Saturday.


Moana Pasifika are staring down a winless season, have just lost their coach, and have been playing in front of few more fans than the catering staff at Mt. Smart Stadium this year.

Then, on Wednesday, it was confirmed that their best player, Levi Aumua, had signed with the Crusaders for the next two years.

Aumua's departure has been met with widespread skepticism given Moana's creation was designed to foster talent and serve as a professional pathway for both the Samoa and Tonga national teams, sparing players the need to head to Japan and Europe to chase their rugby dreams.

But the caveat is of course the fact that the team only had to contract 80% of its roster with Tonga and Samoa eligible players and that World Rugby eligibility loopholes would always mean the All Blacks remained an option for any aspiring player.

Aumua, however, was born in Auckland, New Zealand, and had previously spent time with both the Blues and Chiefs. His selection in the All Blacks XV last year indicated he had likely hitched his wagon to New Zealand, rather than Fiji or Samoa for which he has family ties, and his move to the Crusaders has now confirmed that.

Still, it didn't stop outgoing Moana coach Aaron Mauger from raising the same concerns that fans from across Super Rugby Pacific had shared on social media, all of whom want the expansion franchise to be the success story Fijian Drua is growing into.

But Mauger also said Aumua had always been upfront with his aspirations and therefore went with the team's blessing.

"It's certainly not what Moana Pasifika is designed for," Mauger said. "But we've got to respect the aspirations of our players and Levi made it clear from the start that he wasn't sure what he wanted to do.

"He was honest and up front when he came into this environment that he wanted to play a season of Super Rugby and see where that took him. It obviously took him pretty far and he got selected for the New Zealand XV.

"As a young fella he grew up wanting to be an All Black, so it's understandable he's chosen that route and we wish him all the best. He's been great to work with and hasn't hidden anything from anybody."

While the All Blacks are stacked for midfield options in the likes of Jordie Barrett, Anton Lienert-Brown, Rieko Ioane, Jack Goodhue, David Havili and Braydon Ennor, Aumua could well be an outside chance of a World Cup call-up this year, particularly if injury strikes the New Zealand squad.

At 28 years of age, the move to the famed Crusaders setup - albeit one without a coach for next year - is clearly about his pursuit of an All Blacks call-up before it is too late.

"I would like to say how very thankful I am to Moana Pasifika for providing me the platform over the last few years to get on the field to play and express myself with a great group of players," Aumua said in a statement.

"In my career I have been lucky enough to play all over the world, but in recent times my desire to try play for the All Blacks has intensified. At the end of last year, I got a small taste with the All Blacks XV which only strengthened my hunger to play for the All Blacks.

"With this in mind, I have decided to commit myself to the Crusaders for the next two years."


Alarm bells should be ringing at both New Zealand Rugby and Rugby Australia as the player drain to this year's NRLW competition continues, the latest being Black Ferns Sevens star Tyla Nathan-Wong who this week joined the Dragons.

Nathan-Wong's switch comes on the back of Grace Kemp's own move to the Canberra Raiders from the Brumbies, on top of several others including another Olympic champion Gayle Broughton.

At this stage, however, it appears as though sevens players can continue to combine the two codes because of their shorter seasons and the fact they do not overlap one another; but Kemp's switch means she can play no part in the Wallaroos' Test season.

Both NZR and RA are on the record about their desire to unite the separate Super Rugby Aupiki and SuperW competitions in the future, but perhaps those plans need to be fast-tracked given the aggressive recruiting of the NRLW, which this year grows from six to 10 teams.

The financial incentives to play in the NRLW are also well advanced compared with those on offer for Australia's Super W players.

For her part, Nathan-Wong believes she can switch between the two codes and still be ready for the Black Ferns' run to the Olympics next year, allowing her to fulfil a childhood dream in the process.

"I come from a big league family. I've always loved it and that was my very first sport," she said.

"I was playing alongside the boys at six-years-old, and with my cousins, and my dad was the coach.

"When the NRLW started [in 2018], I was like 'man, that is so cool'.

"Obviously, I was in the thick of it with the sevens program, but I thought how cool would that be to one day come across [to league]. Post the Tokyo Olympics, it sprung up again, so I thought this could be an option for me."


Former All Blacks coach Steve Hansen knows a thing or two about winning World Cups, having been an assistant in New Zealand's 2011 triumph before piloting the ship in 2015. Unfortunately, however, his history-making title defence as coach was ended by the man he opposes at Twickenham this weekend: Eddie Jones.

Still, Hansen remains one of rugby's all-time great coaches and he believes there are just four main contenders for this year's tournament - all of whom reside on the same side of the draw.

It will come as no surprise then that Hansen says Ireland, France, South Africa and New Zealand will fight out the Webb Ellis Trophy.

"It's the hardest thing in the world to win because you've got to survive three weeks in a row against really good opposition," Hansen said of the tournament. "If you have a mental slip or you're five percent off or the other team is five percent above themselves, you're gone.

"We saw that in Japan. England played really, really well. We were probably two or three percent below ourselves and got the result we deserved.

"If you ask me who is capable of winning, probably France, Ireland, the All Blacks and South Africa. I think one of those four will win it."

Hansen also added his considerable weight to existing criticism of the timing of the World Cup draw, from which England, Australia and Argentina are seemingly the chief beneficiaries given their respective places on the World Rugby rankings.

"If you're Australia or England at the moment, you're rubbing your hands, aren't you? You'll get an easy ride in there if you do things right.

"Scotland are number five in the world and they're in the pool with number one and three. Ugly old pool. They call it the pool of death. That's what they said in 2015 with Australia, England and Wales.

"Look at the World Cup and they're on the right side of the pools. They're not going to be knocking one another out.

"Like I said, five of the top teams are going to be gone (on other side of draw). So they're a big shout.

"I think England are a big shout for the same reason. They're on that side of the pool being left alone while the big boys knock each other out."


While talk of a Super Rugby Pacific draft appears fanciful because of the rivalry between the All Blacks and Wallabies and the fraught relationship between RA and NZR, it appears the concept could well be a reality for the United Rugby Championship [URC].

The competition, which will conclude its second season this weekend when the Stormers host Munster in the final in Cape Town, is trending in the right direction across many key metrics; the plight of Italian club Zebre, however, remains an ongoing challenge.

Zebre went winless this season and were long the whipping boys of the PRO14 previously, while the ongoing problems in Welsh rugby are highlighted by the fact that Ospreys, Scarlets and the Dragons filled positions 13, 14, 15 on the ladder.

While only in its infancy, a plan to help spread some of the talent from other teams around the league could help boost the competitiveness of teams languishing near the bottom of the ladder.

"There might be an ability to draft in players from the other unions who aren't getting game time," URC chief executive Martin Anayi told BBC 5 Live. "That is 100% [a conversation]...our job is to find ways of helping the likes of Zebre and the Italian Federation to make them more competitive.

"In American sports, they have a system for doing that, the draft system. We don't have that, so we need to think a bit more laterally about that question."

Anayi noted the depth of Ireland's four provinces, all whom made the playoffs, while also highlighting the fact that Scotland has just two teams and how that meant some players were forced to look elsewhere for an opportunity.

"Ireland have so much talent they are trying to work out how does everybody get game-time, while Scotland have two teams, so that creates a bottleneck for them," he said.

"So those are avenues we are trying to explore. We are setting up a high-performance think-tank to help us with that question, from a league-wide point of view.

"Zebre has been at the bottom of our table for a wee while, and we need to try and do something to help them."