Stannard blow brings Aussies closer together
HE narrowly avoided being yet another hard luck story but Maurice Longbottom says the adversity buffeting the Australian mens sevens team will only make them stronger at the Commonwealth Games.
Longbottom, who overcame an ankle injury just in time to play on the Gold Coast, and the Aussie mens team flew into the Gold Coast on Tuesday after basing their camp in Sydney.
They arrived minus four key players, however, with two captains Lewis Holland (hamstring) and James Stannard (fractured skull) ruled out in the last few weeks, and Simon Kennewell (knee) also sidelined.
Experienced former captain Ed Jenkins was also forced to retire recently with a shoulder injury.
The awful circumstances of Stannard's injury - an alleged coward's punch - rocked the team but they were buoyed by the veteran turning up to training on Monday to wish them well.
Coach Andy Friend has had his hands full ahead of his last tournament in charge, following an awkwardly timed decision by Rugby Australia last month to replace him with current women's coach Tim Walsh.
The bad luck has stacked up on Australia ahead of a Commonwealth Games where the world's top three nations Fiji, New Zealand and South Africa are competing.
But the Aussies believe the adversity has a silver lining.
"We have had a lot of downs leading up to it, but if anything it has probably made our group stronger," Longbottom said.
"We have come together tightly and I have felt that in training. We are just doing everything at 110 per cent. If anything it has pushed us more, and motivated us even more."
Longbottom is a relieved man after recovering from a syndesmosis injury he feared would keep him out of the Games.
The 24-year-old, who is in his first season, emerged as a hot-stepping cult hero at the Sydney Sevens after scoring a sizzling solo try against New Zealand, on the way to Australia's tournament win.
But he picked up an injury the next weekend in New Zealand and feared it was serious.
"I got back into the room and I was pretty devastated, I was in a dark place then," Longbottom said.
"But the boys got around me and Friendy got around me and they said just get in there and do my rehab and I will be ready to go. You work so hard to get to something and then you get injured. But having the support behind me made it a lot easier.
"I did everything right for my recovery and the speaking to Friendy he gave me a couple of deadlines to make, and I made those.
"Here we are now, getting ready for the big dance."
Longbottom is a proud indigenous man, who hails from La Perouse. He said he would be proudly flying the flag for his people, along with fellow Aboriginal sevens star John Porch.
"I wear an Aboriginal flag in my mouthguard and that means a lot to me," Longbottom said.
"Johnny and I talk about it, we are definitely both proud indigenous men."