The first Olympic rugby sevens gold medal winners have done more for the advancement of rugby in Australia with their hard fought 24-17 win over arch rivals New Zealand than any other rugby team in the last 20 years.
The faces of the girls during the anthem said it all – relaxed, happy, beaming smiles reflecting a team that was confident of its ability and the enormous amount of preparation that took them to this point.
It would do a disservice to coach Tim Walsh and his band of warriors to focus on any one of the girls in what was a truly magnificent team effort.
Rugby sevens is a game where any mistake is usually crucial to the outcome. It is hard not to feel sorry for New Zealand’s Portia Woodman whose knockdown and subsequent sin-binning opened the door for two of Australia’s four tries to three victory.
Watching Woodman just prior to the New Zealand national anthem showed a woman who was incredibly wound up and emotional as any warrior worth their salt can be. There is no doubt that she is a champion. But like mere mortals champions also make mistakes. In Woodman’s case I suspect that the knockdown would have simply been instinctive.
One hopes that she can forgive herself for this error and put it behind her.
One person who might also feel like giving himself an uppercut is New Zealand women’s sevens coach Sean Horan. In the aftermath of New Zealand’s win over Great Britain, Horan committed a rookie coaching error by publicly stating that “The Australians don’t like pressure, they don’t like the physical side.”
If ever and Australian team could take motivation from that ridiculous comment it was the Australian women’s team, whose coach Tim Walsh promptly made his squad aware of these disparaging remarks.
Woodman I have some sympathy for – but not their coach Horan.
Anyone with half a brain that has watched this Australian women’s team can see just how tough they are – both mentally and physically.
Not only are they tough, the level of their skills is also something to be admired and is a credit to their coaching group.
The skills of every individual in a rugby sevens team must be at an extremely high level if there is to be any consistent success.
One of the most significant technical features of the women’s team is their passing skill. Rugby sevens requires each individual member to be able to pass long accurate passes under pressure.
Passes need to be long so as to use the width of the rugby field to stretch the opposition defence. Once the line is stretched, the attacking side can then run angles to put particular defenders out of step.
Most rugby players have a dominant passing side and are rarely able to repeat the accuracy and length of the pass on their weaker side.
Not so with this Australian women’s rugby sevens team, whose passing skills have been a feature of their Olympic campaign.
The fact that the team comprises previous members of other sports reflect their versatility and adaptability. It also reflects the enormous amount of work that this squad has undertaken to scale the heights of Olympus to be crowned Olympic champions.
So where to from here?
Women’s rugby opens up a whole new dimension for Australian rugby with a new audience.
The Australian Rugby Union identified this opportunity over four years ago after identifying the rapidly increasing popularity of women’s rugby around the globe.
At the time, the popularity of women’s rugby in Australia was lagging significantly behind. It is to the ARU’s credit that they identified this and invested in this area of the game. The key will be to build on this incredible foundation that this gold medal win provides.
Rugby sevens is the best vehicle to help grow rugby and compete with other codes. It is a truly international sport and is the only true contact code that provides its participants with the opportunity to become Olympians.
As a consequence of Rugby sevens tournaments being played in the off-season, there is the opportunity to invite players from other codes to try the sport, without those players having a conflict of interest with their current sport.
Whilst there is a lot yet to do to provide regular and co-ordinated domestic sevens tournaments for our young men and women, Australia stands well placed to capitalise on the opportunity that this gold medal win provides
There is little doubt that rugby sevens for men and women will become the equivalent of cricket’s 20/20.
For now, we can all bask in the glory of our Australian Women Sevens team being crowned World Champions and World Olympic Champion.
It doesn’t get any better than that.
Australia salutes you.