Earlier this month, the Australian Women’s Sevens team had an interesting weekend of rugby at Sydney’s Knox Grammar School, taking on current World Champions and traditional rivals New Zealand.
Games between these two teams - any games - are always played at full tilt, but the purpose of this weekend match-up was more about what happened off the field than on it.
It was not a formal tournament as such but arranged for the sole purpose of Rio 2016 preparation.
The Olympic Rugby Sevens program runs for six days from August 6th (the day following the opening ceremony) with the women’s tournament to be contested over the first three days and the men's over the remaining three.
The Women’s World Series does not have three-day tournaments in its fixture as the men's does. So the prospect of what to expect and how to anticipate the change in the timeframe around games becomes an issue of added planning for the coaching staff.
Pre and post-match preparations, recovery, sleeping, eating, travel times to venues and even the possibility of unforeseen factors are all elements to be considered and which will differ to the normal routine experienced in their regular tournament play.
With this in mind, the Aussie Sevens Women’s unit planned this weekend as a simulation of the three days of competition it will encounter at the Olympics.
Coach Tim Walsh explained the extent to which they had tried to anticipate as many factors as possible.
"Like traffic or car breakdowns or sickness (just any) any curve balls every now and then; but also adapting from a two day tournament with three games a day to a three day tournament which is two games a day."
"We mimicked the timings between games of the same schedule as Rio. Then what we’re doing in between the games compared to what we do now - just trying out different opportunities and different strategies that are going to get us up for the next game,” he said.
“We tried different things between different games and then overnight as well, just throwing in fire alarms in the middle of the night or coaches not turning up due to sickness or food not turning up and all that kind of stuff, so just the unexpected kind of thing,” Walsh said.
He also emphasised the importance of the change in game times within the competition.
“The quarter final game is now going to be the second game on the second day, rather than the first game on the second day. That makes or breaks a tournament or makes or breaks a shot at a medal - so looking at peaking in that game or making sure that they’re up for that game,” he said.
Walsh was pleased with how the overall exercise unfolded and appreciated the Kiwis’ willingness to be involved as the match practice was an added bonus to preparations for both teams.
“It was really good to have the world’s best team come over and play with us but what we wanted to get out of it was trying to simulate things we might encounter while we’re at the Olympics," he said.
“We reviewed it as players and staff to see what worked and what didn’t. The feedback for what we did was good and we performed reasonably well. It wasn’t really about performance it was about getting our structures in place to do it,” said Walsh.
One of the stars of the Australian team, Charlotte Caslick, agreed with her coach.
“It was good to try some different things and see if it worked for us and if they didn’t then we won’t use them again.
"But I think we definitely found a few things that we are going to use in Rio and just getting that mental prep for the three day tournament rather than just the two days is massive,” she said.
One of the benefits of the Australian Sevens program at Narrabeen is the close alliance with the men's team and Walsh admits this has come into play when anticipating the overall approach to a three-day competition.
“We consult with the men's team who obviously have (had) Vegas and Hong Kong over the last few years, so (it’s good) having that experience from them, knowing our team and how we operate.”
“We’ll make a few tweaks and hopefully have the perfect formula for Rio,” he added.
Needless to say the run around for Australia and New Zealand, currently ranked first and second in the world respectively, was also good preparation for the upcoming fortnight in April when the Women’s World Series hits North America with a double-header beginning in Atlanta, USA on 8-9 April and continuing the following week in Langford, Canada.