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Days after the Qantas Australian’s Womens Sevens team came back from 22-0 down to win round one of the IRB Women’s Sevens World Series in Dubai, coach Tim Walsh and new star Rachel Crothers were still coming to terms with what is being described as one of the most extraordinary come backs in the history of Sevens Rugby.
Asked about the stunning come from behind win Walsh said: “It did cross my mind (that we were gone), but I had faith in the girls to stay composed and make a difference and they certainly did.”
Down 27-7 early in the second half the Australian women scored four tries, including two to Crothers, to clinch a remarkable 35-27 victory.
Asked about his inspired selection of 20-year-old Crothers, who was making her World Series debut, 34-year-old Walsh explained, “she was playing a bit of 10-a-side Rugby for ADFA in Canberra and we saw a few games she played there. She’s just got genuine pace and really good balance but she’s pretty much exceeded anything that we expected of her development.”
When quizzed if Rachel’s debut was up at the top with other great Australian Rugby debuts, Walsh answered: “I’d like to think so.”
“She’s performed outstandingly in her debut tournament. I guess you could go through the history books and find some other (similar) man of the match performances but I’m very proud of her. She was outstanding and I guess now she’ll be a marked player so hopefully we can keep finding her some space and room to move.”
But Crothers was not the only one of Walsh’s discoveries to perform well with 18-year-old Emma Tonegato and 20-year-old Ellia Green also excelling. Asked his selection secrets Walsh said: “There’s no secret. The girls who showed outstanding performance were those selected for the tournament. Rachel performed well above anything that was expected and Ellia keeps performing and getting better which is fantastic.”
Walsh, who won an IRB Women’s Sevens World Series tournament at his first attempt, said rather the credit must go to the entire squad.
“It’s really the other girls, the more experienced girls, the captain Sharni Williams, Shannon Parry”, he said. “They really mentor the girls and look after them. They’ve got a really good culture and that’s what makes a successful team.”
Walsh however has to also take great credit for his shrewd selections and tactics during the tournament including introducing Cobie-Jane Morgan just five minutes into the final.
There was also the clever switching of Emilee Cherry to mark Russian speedster Rusiet Edidzhi in the semi-final won 31-0 by Australia, that nullified one of Russia’s most potent attacking threats and the disruption of scrumhalf Nadezda Yarmotskaya who was jumping in the line out, that starved Russia of the ball.
Speaking of the extraordinary spirit in the squad that saw them come back against New Zealand and also after being 12-0 down against England in the quarter final, Walsh said: “They drive it themselves. We have certain key points like a mission statement that we follow that helps us make our decisions I think it’s the genuine couple of players (Williams and Parry) who drive it and we go from there.”
The aim now however, said Walsh, is to go on and win the World Series.
“We have to win another (tournament)” said Walsh. “It’s going to be tough. All the other teams are certainly going to get a hell of a lot better. These first tournaments are always a bit surprising and everyone’s jockeying for position so we’ve got to maintain our growth and make sure we perform at the next one.”
Australia finished fifth behind New Zealand, England, Canada and the United States in the very first Women's Sevens World Series in 2012/13 but they are already on track to finish higher this series with four tournaments remaining in the USA (Feb 15-16), Brazil (Feb 21-22), China (April 5-6) and the Netherlands May 16-17).
As for Crothers, she humbly deflected credit away from her own performance, instead preferring to give credit to her teammates.
When asked if she thought it was one of the greatest debuts in Australian Rugby history, Crothers said: “I highly doubt that. But it’s a great feeling and it’s all because I had my girls next to me, supporting me. It’s always a team effort.”
Explaining her Rugby history and coming from nowhere to steal the limelight in Dubai, Crothers said: “I played a bit of Rugby at school at Siena Catholic College on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland. I played a bit of XVs Rugby there, not much though, that’s school girls Rugby.”
“Then recently in the middle of this year I played services Rugby with the Air Force and in September I played with the All Services team, the ADF team, and I’ve just been doing training camps and this is my first IRB tournament.
“It’s all come really quickly but I just take it as it comes. This (Dubai) is my fourth Sevens tournament ever, so it’s a good feeling.”
Crothers, who currently studies at the Australian Defence Force Academy (Air Force), actually only played her first Sevens tournament in January-February for the Navy team.
And it was at the Australian Services Rugby Championship at Victoria Barracks in May where Crothers first showed what she could do.
Rachel scored five tries for Air Force against Navy with the Services Rugby website already predicting that Crothers has "the potential to eventually compete for a position in the Australian Women's Sevens team at the 2016 Olympics – that’s a big call but you heard it here, first."
You can't argue with that logic.
Asked about the team’s remarkable come back from the dead in the final Crothers, who has been clocked for 40 metres at the “seriously quick” time of 5.11 seconds, struggled to find the words.
“We were all feeling the … feeling the … the … we were all pretty stuffed even at half time” she laughed. “But we had each other there to lift us and we have a good culture in our team at the moment. We all lift each other, it’s one team, that’s what we’re about.”
And it’s one team that on the evidence in Dubai could go all the way to a gold medal in Rio in 2016.
The Qantas Australian Women’s Sevens team are next in action in Atlanta, USA in mid February in the next round of the IRB Women’s Sevens World Series.