Having said that, the Australian Women’s team cannot move any higher – top spot is top spot!
This team has been developed and honed to the point where it could almost be referred to as a well-oiled machine (although Coach Tim Walsh is not overly keen on that turn of phrase).
Ever the perfectionist, he still tweaks and fine tunes what he likes to refer to as the one-percenters, in an attempt to do what all coaches strive for, and that is to create the unbeatable team.
Now we all know that is an illusion, Walsh most of all; but two years down the track of the centralised professional program which Australian Rugby instigated for its Sevens unit, and the Women are ticking the boxes – all of them!
Following a successful outing in Dubai, winning Round One of the 2015/2016 World Sevens Series, training is continuing ahead of the second round in Sao Paolo in February, where the Australian women will be looking to underline the statement made at the end of 2015.
While the senior team will take the field for three exhibition games ahead of Brazil, during the fourth round of the HSBC Men’s World Rugby Sevens series in Sydney, against an improving Ireland team, Walsh chose to continue the development of depth in his women’s unit by taking a young squad to Fiji last week for the Coral Coast Sevens tournament – leaving the senior team to continue training at home.
While there were some senior players in the team to act in leadership and mentoring roles for some of the young hopefuls, the average age of the side was just 19 years. Walsh said while they wanted to do well and defend their 2014 title in Fiji, the main purpose was to expose the youngsters to different conditions and quality opposition including the two Fijiana development teams.
“The whole point of it was to really give a hard edge and show these girls what it takes to play at a high level and these Fijian teams, they’re World Series teams, so it’s good to expose them to that,” he said, adding “We have some very good depth in the program and this is only going to increase it by putting them through their paces at tournaments such as Coral Coast.”
Walsh admits to being a strong supporter of this annual regional tournament in the Pacific.
“I love coming here. It’s tough footy, it’s physical, flying in in high tackles; it really gives them the edge and toughens up young players.”
Gemma Etheridge – a veteran of the Australian team – lead as captain on the field and mentor off the field and said it was a role she was happy to take on.
“It definitely is a different role. I’m part of the elder statesmen of the team I guess, but it’s definitely a very good opportunity and the girls really respond well. They’re here to learn and they’re really taking it on board; they’re a pleasure to lead and it’s not really a hard job, it’s just do what I normally do and the rest will follow,” she said.
One of the youngest in the Aussie Pearls’ development side was 18 year old Laura Waldie, who could barely contain her excitement at finding herself in Fiji and playing for Australia.
“I came in mid last year … and then gained a contract for this year as well, and I love it! It’s the best job in the world,” she said despite pouring sweat and being covered in dirt, sand and scars from the just-completed battle in the challenging pitch conditions of Lawaqa Park in Sigatoka.
“It was a bit of a rough field but sometimes I think we need that coming from training in such luxurious conditions at Narrabeen; it’s good to toughen up and get some dirt in your face – literally,” she added with a laugh.
Tim Walsh said he is pleased with the talent coming through, as a World Series followed by an Olympics in this unique competition year, will be a big test for standard squads and it is not only a preference but almost a necessity that coaches make sure they have extended depth to call upon this season.
“We’re a sustainable Women’s Rugby program so we’ve got our eyes on 2018 (and) 2020, but our first step now is World Series 2016 and then obviously the Olympics. But winning a World Series is our number one (priority) now and post that we can focus on the Olympics: and always in the back of our mind … we’re implementing programs and strategies and plans to build the women’s game -- bigger and better,” he said.
Don’t be mistaken in thinking this is a walk in the park for these young women. They train hard with a drive and determination that belies their age and inexperience and the way they are mentored by the veterans in the team, as well as the dedicated staff at Narrabeen, is a testament to the development pathway which has been established in this Australian Women’s Rugby Sevens program.
Sydney Sevens match schedule and tickets
- Match One - Saturday 6 February, Australian Women's Sevens vs Ireland, 1.56pm
- Match Two - Sunday 7 February, Australian Women's Sevens vs Ireland, 11.18pm
- Match Three - Sunday 7 February, Australian Women's Sevens vs Ireland, 2.48pm