Rio 2016: the one year countdown

by Staff Writer

The countdown is well and truly on. Just 365 days until Rugby Sevens debuts at the Olympics.

Our Qantas Australian Women's Sevens side booked their flights for Rio 2016 in May during the final tournament of the 2015/16 series but are canny enough to know that the hard work is just beginning.

"It really does seem just like yesterday that we were celebrating the Two Year To Rio event in Sydney," recalls national Women's Sevens Head Coach Tim Walsh. "The team has certainly developed in that time since but we have a long way to go. It re-inforces that every day, every session counts because before we know it, it will be time!"

The last 12 months has not all been plain sailing for Walsh's charges though. Despite impressing in both Dubai in December and then Sao Paulo in February, indifferent Cup Quarter-Final showings against the USA and Russia in Atlanta and Langford left this particular side facing its first battle with adversity. However, the youngest side on the Sevens circuit bounced back in style by memorably taking out the London Sevens at Twickenham before being pipped in the Cup Final in Amsterdam.

It was at the NRCA Stadium in the Dutch capital - after securing another Cup Quarter-Final berth in the pool stages - that the Aussies made history by becoming the first team to qualify the country in a team sport for Rio 2016.

Walsh said: "The performances in the USA and Canada were a blessing to be honest. I wouldn't say we were in a hole, but to find ourselves on the back-foot and to face the pressure we did - and then to bounce back and win in London and perform like we did in Amsterdam - was a credit to the team.

"I think it galvanised our mental toughness. You obviously don't really want it to happen, but to look at it positively, I'm glad it did. We have a real belief in what we are doing.

"The competition is getting better and stronger. Each team is learning how to prepare themselves properly and how to play against the opposition so surprise results will happen more and more. It's up to us to lead the way and make sure we are at the pointy end of the competition."

Australian Women's Sevens forward Shannon Parry concurs, believing that the experience of the two indifferent tournaments in March and April will stand the team in good stead come Rio in 12 months time.

"We had a good couple of tournaments at the start of last season but then obviously had a couple of hiccups coming fifth and then seventh. Things weren't clicking for us. We weren't in any crisis meetings or anything, it was just a matter of a few things here and there that weren't going our way. We've all learned from that and it will help us for the future.

"But for a young team, that was bound to happen. It was a steep learning curve but it was great to bounce back in London and then Amsterdam. It was an experience we can draw on as we move forward to next season."

With the new season a little over four months, Walsh has been impressed with his players since they returned to training five weeks ago.

"The preparations have gone really well. The girls have come back with a new level of professionalism, new standards, and new levels of leadership. So far, I'm a happy coach! We're definitely trending in the right direction, that's for sure.

"At the moment, we're in a pretty heavy period of conditioning and strength-based phase of training. The girls absolutely love it! We'll get onto skills and tactics a little further down the line."

"It is sinking in that we are going to Rio. But we must focus on the process that will give us the best possible chance to succeed. It was certainly an exciting day when we learned we had qualified but now our sights on the final step and that's coming home with a Gold Medal.

For skipper Sharni Williams, the opportunity to play for her country at the Olympics, hasn't quite hit home yet: "A lot of preparation is going on for Rio but it hasn't quite sunk in for me yet. I'm sure it will do as we get closer and board the plane to Rio.

"However, we have an entire World Series before then before the team is selected. There is a lot of competitive drive among the girls and its making training very crisp."

The Qantas Australian Women's side play Japan in the curtain-raiser to Saturday's Bledisloe Cup this Saturday at ANZ Stadium. To buy tickets, click here

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