Olympic hopeful Luke Morahan is willing to bide his time with the Australian sevens programme after the Tokyo Olympics were postponed by just under a year.
The former Wallaby returned to the national fold in January, in a trial week with the Australian Men’s Sevens squad for the Sydney leg of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series in February. He was invited to join the team with the ambition of adding to his already illustrious career by donning an Australian jersey at the 32nd Olympiad.
Morahan traded out the navy and white hoops of the Bristol Bears for the green and gold of Australia, with a two-week break in the Gallagher Premiership season for the opening round of the Six Nations allowing the reputable speedster to pursue his Olympic dream.
With rugby sevens set to make its second appearance at the Games after debuting in 2016, Morahan admitted that he was “no different” from other players considering a switch from 15s in search of Olympic history.
“Traditionally the 15-side game always dominates with the pinnacle tag to [rugby union], but the Olympics is the best sporting event in the world really,” Morahan told World Rugby.
“To showcase your talents there is something that every athlete aspires to and something that has only become recently available to rugby players. It’s a new desire for a lot of players but it’s one that a lot of people are growing up wanting to do.
“I just read that the kiwi player Caleb Clarke, who is a breakout player for the [Auckland] Blues this year and looking like an All Black, is saying that he wants to go back and finish his sevens career with the Olympics next year, which was what he was on his way to do this year.”
Full support from a legend of the game
Australian Men’s Sevens coach Tim Walsh spoke with Morahan around the middle of last year about the prospect of him joining the squad ahead of the Games. But, under contract with Bristol Bears, he needed clearance to return to Australia.
Morahan credits Bristol's Director of Rugby, Pat Lam, for his advocacy in taking up this opportunity; showing immense support for not just him but other players within the club who have faced similar situations.
“Something that we’re pretty fortunate to have is Pat Lam as our Director of Rugby or head coach. He’s instilling the aspirations of players to play at the higher levels, playing for their countries and things like that.
“He sort of says that it’s one of our goals, to get guys playing international football because it’s the pinnacle. If we’re getting guys playing internationally, we’re doing something right here – that’s sort of his philosophy.”
The challenge of switching to sevens wasn’t completely foreign to Morahan, who has already had a decorated history in the code.
Morahan made his professional rugby debut 12 years ago at the South Africa Sevens, before helping Australia to second place at the Delhi Commonwealth Games two years later. He also represented his country at the 2013 Rugby World Cup Sevens in Russia.
But even with his experience, the now 30-year-old wasn’t expecting to stand out immediately in Sydney.
'I’ve always enjoyed playing with the sevens guys'
“I’d come and gone from the sevens programme enough to understand that it doesn’t work that way. My goal for the week was just to get out and play the game, and get my feel for it again.”
In front of a vibrant home crowd at Western Sydney’s Bankwest Stadium, Australia won their first two pool matches against Japan and Scotland before losing to the United States 43-7. The side ended up coming sixth overall, after losing to New Zealand in the fifth-place playoff.
Reflecting on his week with the sevens squad, Morahan felt content, getting all he wanted to out of the event considering his limited preparation.
“As a group I really enjoyed them, I thought they were a fantastic group of guys. I’ve always enjoyed playing with the sevens guys, they’re always good characters. Tim Walsh is a great coach and I think that he’s onto something there, he’s got a good mindset on the game.
“You can’t just come back in and expect to do really well, you’ve got to put the work in and get the fitness, skills and mindset of sevens again. It’s a tough game to really do well in, which gives you an appreciation for how good those guys are as players.
“You look at some of the 15s guys who have come across who don’t dominate as much as they do like Sonny Bill [Williams] and Liam Messam, they did really well but they weren’t the stars of the team like they are in 15s.”
If he wasn’t to be picked for events after 2021, Morahan described playing at the Games as an “idyllic finish” to a sevens career that started in 2008.
But with the Olympics having been pushed back 364 days and so too the process of working his way back into the Australian Olympics fold, Morahan also admits that his aspirations for Tokyo were on the “backburner” for now as his focus shifts back to Bristol.
The Bears can win both the Premiership and the Challenge Cup over the coming months, but that doesn’t mean that he’s given up on his Olympic dream completely.
Raring to go for the Bears
With the Bears set to resume their Premiership season on the 15th of this month against Saracens, the outside back has used the sevens fitness programme to get himself match fit.
“The time I’ve put into it would just be the type of training that I’ve been doing during COVID because we’ve been having to train by ourselves for most of the last three months.
"I’ve actually taken up most of the sevens fitness programme to see where I was at and see what I could do to get back to that fitness level.”