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By ARU Media Unit
The Qantas Women’s Sevens today departed for the Oceania Women’s Sevens Championships in Lautoka, Fiji, and with it began their journey to Rugby World Cup Sevens 2013.
While Australia has already qualified for Rugby World Cup Sevens in Russia, this weekend’s tournament, which runs 3-4 August, is Australia’s first major step toward defending its title of world champions, having won the inaugural Rugby World Cup Sevens in 2009.
For Qantas Women’s Sevens captain Rebecca Tavo, the Oceania Championships provide the perfect opportunity for her team to build confidence heading into the World Cup.
“We won Oceanias in 2008 before the Rugby World Cup Sevens and it was a great step toward becoming World Champions,” Tavo said.
“If we could do the same thing this time around it will be a great confidence builder for the girls.”
The Qantas Women’s Sevens are seeded first in Pool A, alongside Samoa, Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands. Pool B features New Zealand, Fiji, Cook Islands and Tonga.
Both Australia and New Zealand have already qualified for Rugby World Cup Sevens 2013, so the remaining six competitors at the Oceania Championships will be vying for advancement in the qualifying process.
The last week has been one of preparation for the Qantas Women’s Sevens and Tavo believes international competition is just what is needed to develop another team of world champions.
“We’ve got six or seven girls in their teens, so we’re trying to get as much international experience before Russia as possible,” Tavo said.
“A few years at the international level will make a world of difference.
“This week of preparation has been awesome. We are more confident and tougher at everything. It’s coming together nicely.”
With the London Olympic Games currently underway, the 2016 Summer Olympics are also nestled firmly in the back of Tavo’s mind.
“You try not to think about it too much because it’s still four years away,” Tavo said.
“But with everyone staying up late and getting behind the current Olympic team in London it’s hard not to think how amazing it would be to be part of an Olympic campaign.
“It’s amazing to think that we will have an opportunity to compete at the Olympics in four years, it’s very exciting.
“Even from a spectator point of view I think Rugby Sevens is going to be one of the fan favourites in the Rio games.”
The Qantas Women’s Sevens kick off their tournament Friday 3 August at 10:22am (AEST) against Solomon Islands before taking on Papua New Guinea at 12:04pm (AEST) and finally Samoa at 1:46pm (AEST).
Day 2 features the playoff rounds, with the tournament final taking place at 2:16pm (AEST) Saturday 4 August.
In the only change to the Qantas Women’s Sevens squad named for the tournament, Katrina Barker comes in to replace the injured Shannon Parry.
Meanwhile, the Qantas Men’s Sevens side has begun its preparations for the Oceania Sevens Championships, which Australia will host at North Sydney Oval on the weekend of 25-26 August.
While the draw for the tournament is still to be confirmed, the tournament will feature much of the strength of the pacific, including Samoa and Tonga.
The men’s tournament also acts as a qualifier for Rugby World Cup Sevens 2013 and Qantas Men’s Sevens captain Ed Jenkins knows how crucial the tournament is to his team’s continued development.
“It’s really important for us to do well,” Jenkins said.
“The opposition in this region is very strong so it will be a tough tournament.
“After finishing ninth in 2009 we have to stand up at this tournament, do well and secure that spot in Russia next year.
“The side is very focussed at the moment and we are certainly determined to ensure we qualify for this World Cup.”
With New Zealand, Fiji and Samoa already qualified for the World Cup, only two spots from Oceania remain up for grabs.
While Jenkins isn’t sure what pool the Australians will be drawn in he is sure of one thing, that the competition will be fierce.
“Every nation will be gunning for a spot at the World Cup, so it’s going to be a thrilling tournament,” Jenkins said.
“When you consider you’ve got the likes of Samoa and Tonga coming to this tournament plus emerging nations like Papua New Guinea, Cook Islands, Tahiti, Solomon Islands and American Samoa there really isn’t going to be any easy games.”
Like his female counterpart, Jenkins also admits to his excitement at watching the current Olympics.
“It’s surreal to watch this Olympics and think that Sevens will be there next time,” Jenkins said.
“If you look at the road ahead of us, our program kicks off now and we don’t stop until the World Cup, then we’ve got the Commonwealth Games in 2014 and then two years after that the Olympics
“I have no doubts that the 2016 Olympic Games will come around a lot quicker than we all expect.”
The Qantas Men’s Sevens will be in camp at the Sydney Academy of Sport, Narrabeen from 6-9 August. They will then enter a final training camp from 20-24 August prior to the Oceania Sevens Championships.
Qantas Women’s Sevens side for Oceania Women’s Sevens Championships
The Qantas Australian Women’s Sevens team begins its quest for Olympic qualification in Rio with Dubai first up in the IRB Women’s Sevens World Series in December.