HIGHLY regarded sevens utility Nick Malouf has joined England Premiership heavyweights Leicester, bringing his Australian sevens career to an end.
Malouf’s departure from the sevens circuit is another blow for Andy Friend’s Australian team.
Australia is without a win on the world series since 2012 and failed to make a tournament final in the 2016-17 season.
The team’s struggles this season were attributed to a high injury toll and a young roster, as a number of exciting prospects made their debuts including Tim Anstee and Lachie Anderson.
But Malouf’s departure is yet another blow for Australian rugby, who continue to lose players to wealthy overseas clubs.
The sevens program last season lost speedsters Cam Clark to the Waratahs and Pama Fou to the Rebels, while 2016 world rookie of the year Henry Hutchison has also played his last sevens game for Australia after joining the Rebels last month.
While Malouf’s preference would have been to stay in Australia, a lack of interest saw him bite the bullet and take his boots overseas.
“I didn’t really have any interest from Super Rugby,” Malouf told foxsports.com.au from England.
“I was just at the stage that I was happy to come overseas to experience footy over here, the lifestyle over here and something completely different.
“It was a difficult decision to make but eventually I had to make a decision — if I wanted to get back into XVs I was going to have to do it sooner rather than later otherwise I would have just been playing sevens for the rest of my career.
“So I had to back myself that things were going to work out in XVs because I’ve taken a bit of a risk changing back.”
Malouf, 24, represented Australia at the Rio Olympics in 2016, but was hampered by ongoing injuries throughout the last two seasons after a breakout year in 2015.
Despite his recent injury woes, new Leicester coach Matt O’Connor — a fellow Australian — saw enough in the outside back to sign him even though they’ve never met before.
Making the move to England easier is that Malouf holds a UK passport.
Capable of playing in the centres or on the wing, Malouf joins former Wallabies Matt Toomua and Peter Betham at the club.
Ambrose Curtis of New Zealand is tackled by Nick Malouf and Ed Jenkins of Australia. Ambrose Curtis of New Zealand is tackled by Nick Malouf and Ed Jenkins of Australia. Source: Getty Images LIVE stream Vodafone Super Rugby on FOX SPORTS. Get your free 2-week Foxtel Now trial and start watching in minutes. SIGN UP NOW >
Malouf said he was excited by the opportunity to learn at the famous England club.
“It’s more just to experience playing XVs rugby and getting to a really great environment to learn,” he said.
“That’s what made the decision to join Leicester so easy.
“The players they’ve got here and the history of the club; if I could choose somewhere to integrate back into the XV-man game, I’d be pretty hard pressed to get all that learning and experience from a better club than Leicester.”
Malouf said that Australia’s struggles in the seven-a-side game over the last five years could be attributed to the fact that they’ve struggled to keep a core group of players together.
Sevens rugby has often been seen as a pathway for exciting young players into the XV-man game and while it’s benefited the Wallabies, it’s come at the detriment of the shorter format.
Unclear direction as to where the code stands in the rugby landscape is something that a number of high profile sevens players are concerned about.
And with sevens now locked into the next Olympics and also appearing at next year’s Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, funding and keeping players in the game is something that the ARU must address.