All Blacks No.8 Ardie Savea and prop Nepo Laulala are on paternity leave and will miss the third Bledisloe Cup Test against Australia next weekend, coach Ian Foster has said.
In a significant boost to the Australian women’s rugby sevens program, last week veterans Sharni Williams and Shannon Parry recommitted for an additional year.
This means the pair will be available to compete at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, where the Aussies are hoping to win back-to-back gold medals, following their historic victory at the 2016 Rio Games.
For Williams, who is captain of the team, the decision has given her the chance to refocus.
“This signing has almost felt like I have pressed the reset button,” she says.
“It’s great to have the opportunity to re-sign, especially so late in my career. I now have that added security and I can focus on helping the team defend our title in Tokyo.”
For many Australians, that performance was one the highlights of the Rio Games. That victory certainly changed rugby in Australia and saw women’s sevens become the fastest growing area in the game in the years that followed.
It’s incredible to think that Williams’ participation was 20 years in the making.
Williams was eight years old when she decided she wanted to be an Olympian, albeit at that time, she thought she would represent Australia in hockey.
But then, much later on, Williams discovered rugby. She has since captained the Wallaroos and amassed 19 caps with that team, as well as 35 caps for Sevens side.
“When you have a goal and you focus on that goal, you make sacrifices and you make choices,” says Williams.
“We put limits on ourselves as people. If you can get away from those limits and then crush them, that’s when you really discover who you are and what you are capable of.”
Now, thanks to Williams and her teammates, the barriers that the next generation of young women and girls need to overcome to play rugby sevens are much lower. For Williams that presents an exciting opportunity, particularly when it comes to the talent of that next generation.
“Seeing young girls playing sevens is so exciting. In the past you would have to stop at age 12, but now there are actually competitions for these young girls to play in as they grow older,” Williams says.
“Those girls can carry on. We don’t need to lose girls to other codes anymore.
“My niece has somewhere to go if she wants to play rugby for as long as she wants, rather than me who started at age 20.
“Imagine the skill level these girls will have. We see the skill level in the men’s game because of an unbroken pathway. That is all ahead for the women’s game.”
As for the Sevens team, they have recently completed a training camp in Bathurst and now get an opportunity for some leave before coming together again ahead of the 2021 Olympics.
But you may have noticed that some of the squad was missing from that training camp due to other commitments.
Charlotte Caslick, Ellia Green and Evania Pelite are currently competing in the NRL Women’s premiership, with Caslick playing for the Sydney Roosters and Pelite and Green with the New Zealand Warriors.
All three players excelled in their debuts on the weekend and for Williams, their participation in this competition is just another example of the power women have to challenge themselves and break down barriers.
“We can put limitations on ourselves and think ‘I am just a sevens player’. But we are all so much more than that. We have so much more to offer and this is a great chance for these women to showcase that,” she says.
“We want to support these women who are breaking down barriers and having fun doing it.
“At the moment we have no games to play, so it’s a great chance for them to brush up on their skills and come up against some talented athletes.
“They have the chance to go and see how different teams operate and what their cultures are like. Perhaps they can bring some of that back with them.”
As for Williams’ possible participation in the NRLW, she says there was never any doubt about wanting to re-commit to the sevens program for one more year and potentially aiming for the Rugby World Cup in 2021.
The bottom line is, Williams still has plenty of footy left in her.
“I’m feeling good. My body is great. I am probably playing some of the best footy I have ever played,” she says.
“You are a long time retired, so I don’t want to leave anything on the field.
“Just because I will retire from the sevens version of the game, it certainly doesn’t stop me playing other sports.”