Sharni Williams has been the journeyman of the Australian Women’s rugby sevens team since she first laced up her boots seven years ago.
Initially juggling life as full-time mechanic and an amateur full-time elite athlete up until two years ago, when the 27 year-old stepped away from the car tools and jumped into a new era for the sport, and that meant, to be paid to do what she loves the most, rugby.
“I’m enjoying what I have now because I’ve come from the lowest of lows and starting to see it (women’s rugby) progress.”
With her first appearance as captain at the Women’s World Cup, Russia, 2013, Williams takes nothing for granted and has become an integral part of the women’s game as it’s developed.
“I’m grateful for the position that I’m in,” Williams said.
And there’s no doubt Women’s Rugby has come a long way since she first laced up her boots.
Where there’s a Williams, there’s a way
“We had to pay to go to travel and play overseas, we had to pay for all our medicals and we had to work as well, me being a mechanic, it’s pretty strenuous and I had to get up at 5am, go to the gym, go do my mechanics and then do training,” she said.
And her attitude is a good one; no point kicking cans over what men’s rugby has over women’s. Williams has got it in perspective.
“Like a lot of women’s sport at the moment, we’re performing better than the men but if we keep comparing it to the men we’re not going to enjoy what we have at the moment.”
Williams, a product of Batlow, Riverina, defected from a promising hockey career to rugby, and one would agree, the skills of the two sport couldn’t any further apart. But her fitness, interest in rugby and her athleticism transitioned Williams seamlessly.
“I moved to Canberra for hockey, played for the Canberra Strikers in their national league. One day got asked to play union 15’s and I was like, oh, I always wanted to play it, with Batlow being a rugby league dominated area I wanted to play rugby league when I was little but Mum wouldn’t let me. When I was 20 I decided that I wanted to play rugby union and play that 7’s game. I played for the ACT and then for the (Warringah) RATS, and made the Australian team. I didn’t have a lot of experience playing rugby but showed a bit of skill and they liked it so ever since then I’ve played… seven years ago now”.
In 2008 Williams debuted for Australia against all-time rivals New Zealand in Canberra.
“It was pretty cool, on home soil, we didn’t win, we’ve never beaten New Zealand in the 15’s. But in the seven’s we’ve beaten New Zealand a few times, maybe three or four,” Williams said.
Thrill of the chase
Williams, who has affection for the 15-a-side game, admits playing seven’s rugby is the most thrilling.
“It’s just the adrenalin rush you get from playing sevens, you’re always working, always doing something. You’ve got to be on your toes.
“I like the fast pace of the game, there’s more space and I like the contact as well it’s like one-on-one trying to beat our position, so it gives that little edge to have a bit of confidence and showcase your skills.”
The women’s sevens World Series is made up of five tournaments in 2016, with the Australians in the box seat to take title ahead in the final round in France this weekend. It would be an historic win, and would make them the first Aussie team in history to be crowned world champs.
“We’re trying to get a lot of people out there recognising that women play rugby. We’ve got some amazing skill and ability and we want to go out there and show them that it’s fun, it’s vibrant, and that it’s meant for women, and women can get out there and play as rough as the men but also showcase the speed and agility that we have.
“The cricket, the Women’s Big Bash League, that’s just taken off now, they’ve created a lot of revenue, they’ve advertised, and being on TV that’s just taken off in leaps and bounds and hopefully rugby can following the footsteps of that.
“You can’t watch it (women’s rugby) on TV until the final and that’s if you make the final, it’s on pay-tv. I think that has to change because that makes everyone more aware that there’s actually games going on."
“This isn’t even work”
Williams, who says her greatest achievement is becoming captain of Australia seven’s team, is paving the way for aspiring women’s rugby players. She’s a given role model in the sport. But for her, in the early days of women’s rugby, it was the guys that helped steer her career.
“Stirling Mortlock (former Wallaby and ACT Brumbies) was my favorite growing up, I got to play with him a bit at the Brumbies which was pretty cool and then Matt Giteau, I trained with him a little bit as well, so those two were huge inspirations for my rugby career,” she said.
Growing up, it was hockey legend Alyson Annan who she looked up to.
“Alyson Annan was pretty awesome I remember her scoring one of the goals for the Gold medal at the Sydney 2000 Olympics, so that was pretty inspiring.
“Since I was eight years old I wanted to go to the Olympics and I thought it was going to be for Hockey but rugby came along and that’s definitely been a turning point. The enjoyment I get out of playing rugby – it’s such a family orientated sport, we’ll have BBQ’s and catch ups and Christmas parties… I love coming to training, I go to work with friends and family. Being a mechanic there was some days I didn’t want to go to work but this, I’m like, this isn’t even work, this is enjoyment, this is amazing”.