Title gives Australia women's sevens team hope for Rio gold

MELBOURNE • The Wallabies' two World Cup wins have long stood as Australia's proudest achievements in rugby, but the nation's dominant women's sevens team hope to set a new benchmark by winning gold at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

The team captured Australia's first World Series title on Sunday, finishing runner-up in the final event in the French university town of Clermont-Ferrand.

Plaudits have come thick and fast from sports-mad Australia, with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull among the fans offering congratulations through social media.

The win might have seemed a good enough excuse to open a few bottles of choice French wine, but, with the Olympics on the horizon, the players opted to toast their win over a sober breakfast of crepes in a central Clermont-Ferrand cafe.

"No sore heads," head coach Tim Walsh said. "When it was 100 days to go to Rio, all the girls made a little pact on how to prepare.

"We've been going on for three years now, we don't want to be wasting days, whether through not eating right or just not looking after the body. And after the sevens tournament, everyone's just so wrecked."

INSPIRING THE NEXT GENERATION

They really are fantastic role models. This result and the Olympics are a catalyst to driving the game.

TIM WALSH, Australia women's rugby sevens coach, on his players' dedication to the game.

Australia's men have long been one of the world's major powers in the 15-a-side game, winning the 1991 and 1999 World Cups and reaching the final of last year's tournament in England.

In sevens, however, it is the country's women who are the gold standard and offer a far greater hope of a medal when the format makes its Olympic debut at Rio.

Mounting the podium at the end of the three-day tournament at the Deodoro Stadium would be a great reward for a team and staff who have worked tirelessly over the past three years, Walsh said.

But, more importantly, it would inspire a generation of girls in Australia and change the way people perceive female athletes.

"These girls are pioneering," said 37-year-old Walsh, a former fly-half for the top-flight Queensland Reds in Super Rugby. "They really are fantastic role models. This result and the Olympics are a catalyst to driving the game.

"The girls, the staff and the whole programme is about re-branding women's rugby. These girls are elite Olympians, they're full-time athletes, physically fit, they travel the world, they play a contact sport which isn't associated with women too much."

Apart from winning three out of the five World Series events, the team also ended New Zealand's three-year reign as champions, delighting a nation whose men have long been shaded by the All Blacks in the traditional format.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 01, 2016, with the headline 'Title gives Australia women's sevens team hope for Rio gold'. Print Edition | Subscribe