The momentum out of Rio is in full flight and when the players return from a more than enjoyable few weeks in Brazil, they will be met with open arms and a barrage of media attention. But for the most part, the squad looks forward to several weeks of well deserved leave from the gym and the training fields at their Narrabeen home base.
When they return to ‘work’ a line will be drawn under the success in Rio. Aside from the residual big smiles on their facess, in true Aussie 7s style and under coach Tim Walsh's influence they will not rest on their laurels but target the next goal and prepare for a busy pre-season.
From 7s to XVs
While the 7s players take stock, the spotlight will move to the women's XVs campaign - ahead of a big year for the Wallaroos - with the women's rugby world cup next August in Dublin looming ever closer on the horizon.
Following the squad selection last month, the team is working towards a NZ Test series in October across the Tasman, with the first stop being a full training camp on the Gold Coast next week.
The future looks bright for the Wallaroos following the new corporate sponsorship from Buildcorp and the October test series locked in. But this can only be the start of a very hard road ahead if this team wants to match it with the best next year.
With higher awareness of the Wallaroos through the team’s inclusion in this year’s Bledisloe series, even this week’s annual Buildcorp Rugby lunch featured star players from the Women’s team as well as the Wallabies in the lead up to this weekend’s first Test match.
Keeping up with the enemy
Australia is not the only rugby nation making moves to develop and consolidate its women's XVs program with several nations announcing increased competition and, in the case of England, a massive financial investment through new player contracts.
Last month the RFU announced it was handing 16 full-time contracts to XVs players, which has been viewed as a seismic shift in the approach to the Women’s game, with the global commitment for XVs rugby having taken a back seat in recent years to the emphasis on investment in Sevens, due to the sport’s Olympic debut.
The RFU initiative has followed on from a relatively successful Six Nations Championship earlier this year where England finished second. The Six Nations competition has a 20 year history and pits six European nations against each other in a round robin tournament over five weeks and is a very strong format for quality match practice on an annual basis.
This level of Test match competition is not something that has an equivalent in the southern hemisphere and perhaps this will be telling when the battle lines are drawn in Ireland next year.
The French, who won this year’s RBS Six Nations, have also announced an increased investment in Women’s Rugby across the board – both financial and in competition – outlining plans for all Top 14 clubs to have women’s teams that will compete in a French Women’s league.
This opens up all sorts of possibilities for female players globally where there may even one day be the possibility of taking up overseas contracts, as happens in the Men’s Top 14 competition, once the league is established and becomes viable.
The Welsh too are doing much to develop their Women’s Rugby programs, having recently appointed a new XVs head coach and two assistant coaches, supporting the development of a strong pathway to the 2017 World Cup.
While professional development programs take money to introduce and operate – funds that very few unions have to spare – the Women’s game is now at a point of no return where investment must be made if the game is to grow.
The recent success of the Aussie 7s women's team shows the ARU women's rugby is where any investment must be targeted in both 7s and XVs if it wants continued growth in the sport, reflecting the global trend, and continued success for its female players.
With the Buildcorp sponsorship came the proposal of a XVs tour to the northern hemisphere for the Wallaroos as much needed preparation for the 2017 WRWC, and it can only be hoped this idea is taking form and plans are in the pipeline to make it happen.
The fact that New Zealand will be adding to its World Cup preparations, following the October Tests against the Wallaroos, with what is being termed as a ‘mini-World Cup’ in November when it heads to Ireland to take on England, Canada and the hosts in a four team competition, leaves Australia looking a bit out of the loop in terms of serious preparations.
Australia is one of nine teams which are confirmed for the 12-team World Cup tournament, having qualified by means of finishing in the top seven at the last one in 2014.
While both geography and game development make diverse, high calibre competition more difficult in the southern hemisphere, a solution to the limited match time available to the Wallaroos must be sought quickly.
While a Six Nations equivalent is not possible, an increase in consistent match time to any degree is essential if the XVs is to experience similar outcomes as its Sevens sisters over the next few years – and there is only so many times you can play your ‘frenemies’ from across the Tasman.
Regional Development a good sign for the game
While not an effective prospect for next year’s big event, the recent increased development in the Pacific must also be seen as a sign that Women’s Rugby is also on the move regionally.
Fiji has acknowledged that there needs to be a development focus on the Women’s game – in all forms – to address health, social and lifestyle issues and to increase participation in the sport on the back of the success in the short form of the game, where not only have the men starred this year, but the Women have also made strong improvements.
Whatever eventuates over the next few months there is no doubt rugby fans are in for another big year with host nation Ireland just waiting to welcome all comers next August.