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Big changes, big potential: Women's Sevens Series preview

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The UK spring tour is done, dusted and enjoyed, with naturally much discussion coming from it. Now the Super Rugby Pacific squads have been announced for us to mull over.

For the rugby tragic the rugby action actually keeps going with back-to-back sevens tournaments in Dubai. It all starts on Friday and is played out over the weekend for both the men and women. They will be interesting tournaments for the Australian teams as both have had a high turnover of players and neither has had their coach confirmed.

It is a big year coming up with the World Rugby Sevens Series running through to May, then the Birmingham Commonwealth Games in July and August followed by the World Cup in South Africa in September.

For the critics and those less enthusiastic of sevens, remember that being an Olympic or Commonwealth Games sport is what differentiates rugby from league and AFL. When it comes to getting a higher profile, rugby needs anything it can get, so performing in sevens is valuable for Rugby Australia.

So where are we at?

Charlotte Caslick

Charlotte Caslick. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

It is odd that Rugby Australia came out and announced the full-time sevens squads for the coming series while having both coaches still needing to reapply for their roles. I’m guessing both coaches will be reappointed, as you would imagine the coach would like to have a say in the players in their squads.

Let’s first turn to the women. They have very much moved on from the golden generation, with only two remaining from the Rio Olympics. Unfortunately the postponement of the Olympics and COVID more generally really threw a spanner in any plans to develop succession and transition. This is as opposed to New Zealand, who seem to have transitioned very well. Most of the Rio Kiwi squad made the Tokyo Olympics, and I guess most will continue. In saying that, they do not have the competition for talent from the NRLW or AFLW.

There have been a few departures from the women’s program. Generally those who have moved on have been understandable: Shannon Parry, Emma Tonegato and, to a degree, Ellia Green. Others have moved on in life with kids, while Chloe Dalton has gone to AFLW.

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The massive loss is Evania Pelite, who I rate as almost as important to the sevens squad as Charlotte Caslick. I have sung Pelite’s praises for a number of years as both a skilled and an effort player in attack and defence. Unfortunately word has it she is off to the NRLW, where she was a standout for the New Zealand Warriors back in 2020. Caslick was keen to play for the Roosters again but it clashed with her sevens commitments. So a lot of IP and experience has gone.

Evania Pelite

Evania Pelite will be a massive loss. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

A squad of 16 has been selected, with most having been in the Tokyo Olympics side. Apart from Sharni Williams and Charlotte Caslick, the others have not racked up a lot of game time. There are a few, such as Dom du Toit, Lily Dick, Demi Hayes and Cassie Staples, who have been in and around the squad for a while but have not been regular starters. They will need to step up.

It will be interesting to see the Levi sisters get a run, having come from the Gold Coast Suns AFLW program. Keep an eye on Alysia Lefau-Fakaosilea, who is an absolute dynamo both with ball in hand and over the ball in the rucks. Faith Nathan and Madison Ashby are creative youngsters. Then there is a couple of young forwards, Sariah Paki and Rhiannon Byers, who could add some physicality.

Dubai is going to be intriguing. Australia seem to have been slow to develop their game over the last couple of years. The women’s game has changed; footy skills are no longer enough. It requires skill, speed and power to win the contact, and the rucks are critical.

The Australian women, especially those who came from a touch football background, have real footy skills, but like a great backline in 15s rugby, unless you have the forwards laying the platform, the backs cannot do their thing. Anyone who watched the Olympics would have seen the power that New Zealand, Fiji and the USA have. Having recently watched the English Red Roses and French women’s 15s play, it will be interesting to see how Great Britain and France go in Dubai.

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With no New Zealand side due to COVID, there will be a different level of excitement among the teams and players in Dubai. New Zealand have been a long way ahead of everyone for the last couple of years. As a consequence, most teams will believe they are in with a chance to win.

For Australia the raft of changes to the roster will result in a bit of viewing anxiety, especially having Olympic finalist France and bronze medallist Fiji in their pool.

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But if you have the inclination, interest and/or time, you can also check out the new sevens jerseys, including a new Indigenous one. Plus it is always good to watch Charlotte Caslick in action – she has consistently been Australia’s best for over five years – along with a bunch of new players who hopefully will become the next stars.

According to Rugby Australia’s recent release, at this stage there is no confirmation as to where it will be broadcast, noting these are World Rugby rights, not Rugby Australia rights. At the very least it should be streamed by World Rugby.

Women’s fixture

Friday, 26 November: Australia versus USA, 3:48pm AEDT
Friday, 26 November: Australia versus Spain, 6:50pm AEDT
Saturday, 27 November: Australia versus Brazil, 4:22pm AEDT
Saturday, 27 November: Australia versus France, 7:23pm AEDT

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