It’s a joy to continue to see Rugby Sevens go from strength to strength in this country, particularly when it comes to female participation.
This week, the Australian Rugby Union announced the draw for the inaugural Women’s Uni Sevens series, which will begin in August.
I had the opportunity to speak to Australian Rugby Sevens women’s coach Tim Walsh earlier this week as the team continues to prepare for its next hit-out in Landford, Canada.
The team currently sits second on the world series standings behind New Zealand.
It’s fair to say that since the 2016 Rio Olympics there has been a changing of the guard in this squad, with plenty of new faces, including Emma Sykes, who has played in every tournament this year since coming onto the sevens scene last year; Demi Haynes who Tim describes as having a “great athletic physique and all the attributes we look for in a sevens player”; and Dominique Du Toit, who continues to go from strength to strength.
After speaking with Tim, his enthusiasm for rugby sevens was clear, in particular his commitment to ensuring that Australia stays on the podium for Olympic Games to come.
Crucial to this is growing the game of women’s sevens, and this new series will play a vital role in that. What is so exciting about this competition is that it is Australia’s first domestic sevens competition for women, and because it is a consistent tournament, it gives teams the opportunity to build combinations and for players to prepare themselves appropriately.
Participating in the tournament will be universities from across Australia, including the University of Canberra, University of Adelaide, University of Tasmania and University of New England.
Each team will feature at least two members of the Australian rugby sevens women’s team, and according to Tim this will be vital for the tournament. Each player will be able to “deliver on what it means to be an Australian women’s sevens player and each member of the squad will be able to embrace and encourage the points of difference that players have”.
As women who were all relatively new to rugby four years ago, their influence will be vital to the success of this tournament.
This tournament also demonstrates that there is a very real interest in the sevens concept – an interest which Tim says is “something we need to embrace as a rugby community”. At the trials for the University of New England team over 100 women turned up, some of whom had driven for more than two hours just to give it a go.
I want to acknowledge the role of Aon, which is sponsoring this tournament and joins companies like Samsung, Harvey Norman, NAB and Chemist Warehouse, which are all continuing to show their real commitment to supporting women in sport.
And for any women who are worried about not having had a background in sevens, Tim’s advice is to “seize the day”.
Two years ago Chloe Dalton was playing basketball. Alicia Quirk was playing touch football.
The beauty of rugby sevens is that it is a game that requires different types of skills, including speed, agility and power, and this point of difference is exactly what Tim will be looking for as he travels the country scouting for the next Charlotte Caslick, Emilee Cherry or Shannon Parry.
Where do we go to from here?
Tim thinks there is tremendous potential for this competition to be extended to a couple more rounds and potentially to even invite teams from Fiji and New Zealand to compete, too, turning it into a ‘next level competition’.
But for the moment we are progressing in the right direction, and I’m confident that among these eight teams the next generation of Australian women’s sevens players are waiting to be discovered.
On this day last year, I remember going home and curling up with a blanket on my couch. It was around 10:15pm and I’d waited to watch Channel Nine’s delayed coverage of the Australian Jillaroos vs Kiwi Ferns Anzac test.
Until that point, I had done everything right. For those of you who know me, you’ll know I’m relentless on social media, but such was my commitment to watching the game as ‘live’ as I could, I had turned off my phone and avoided all potential situations where someone could ruin the score for me.
Unfortunately, all that was for nought because at the end of the coverage of the men’s game one of the commentators announced, “And now the Jillaroos vs Ferns game – the Ferns took out this game 26-16”.
My jaw dropped. Not only had I sat up until past ten to watch this game, but the score had been revealed before kick-off. To say I was disappointed is an understatement.
Here we are one year on, and tonight the Jillaroos will take on the Ferns in Canberra.
Plenty has changed in the last year.
The Tarsha Gale Nines competition started at the beginning of the year. This is a nine-a-side under 18s women’s competition and was the first full-scale women’s competition in rugby league featuring teams from across NSW, including the Parramatta Eels, Canterbury Bulldogs, Wests Tigers and Sydney Indigenous Academy.
In the last month, the NSWRL and QRL made a joint announcement that Harvey Norman had signed on to be the first major sponsor of women’s rugby league, with the creation of an unbroken pathway from under-six to representative competitions.
This is without mention of the Jillaroos’ outstanding start to the year – defeating the Kiwi Ferns in a clean-sweep for the first time in the three-game series at the Auckland Nines.
With a rugby league World Cup to look forward to at the end of the year that will for the first time see the men’s and women’s competition run alongside each other, I continue to watch women in league go from strength to strength.
But while some things change, some things stay the same.
Tonight Channel Nine has again made the decision to televise the Jillaroos game on delay following the game between the Kangaroos and the Kiwis. This is despite the explosion in women’s rugby league we have seen this year and despite continued interest from rugby league fans in the Jillaroos.
You can’t be what you can’t see and this is a missed opportunity to showcase the strength of the women’s game on the biggest stage: television.
I understand that eyes mean dollars and that the timeslot of 5:25pm-7:25pm is a valuable one, particularly with news coverage at 6pm, but Channel Nine has several channels, some of which are showing Friends re-runs, House Hunters International and As Time Goes By.
Are you telling me, despite the growth in women’s sport over the last year across cricket, netball and AFL, that Channel Nine decided that there would not be enough eyeballs on the Jillaroos game? If Channel Nine doesn’t see this game as valuable, perhaps consider passing it on to Fox Sports or another channel which may value it enough to play it live.
But Channel Nine will not ruin the score for me this year. Another change – instead of sitting up until after 10 pm to watch this game, I’m driving down to Canberra to cheer the Jillaroos on in person.
Hopefully next week my column includes some detail about a Jillaroos win over the Ferns.