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By Georgina Robinson, Sydney Morning Herald
If four years is a long time in sport, it is an eternity in Sevens.
Of Australia's triumphant 2009 World Cup-winning women's squad, only one player remains to lead their title defence in Moscow at the end of this month.
Rebecca Tavo will help lead a squad composed almost entirely of next-generation players, including Sydney schoolgirl Tiana Penitani.
At only 17, Penitani needed her mother to sign a parental waiver before she could become the youngest person ever to represent Australia in senior rugby this year.
The Maroubra teenager went on to cement a spot on the wing during the recent World Series, scoring 55 points during Australia's campaign.
''When I debuted on the world circuit I had to mentally prepare myself for something I'd never experienced,'' Penitani said during a break at selection camp this week.
''It's a big step up from playing this level, being the highest that women can achieve, but I hope that I handled myself well.''
Coach Chris Lane thought she did, naming Penitani in the squad he takes to Russia in three weeks.
''This is almost a completely new squad to that which won it in 2009,'' Lane said.
''Everything over the past 18 months has been aimed at this tournament and we've seen our experienced players put their hands up and this new generation of players grab the opportunity that has been given to them.''
Tavo may be the only member of the 2009 squad but she is surrounded by experience, including 2010 15-a-side World Cup team members Iliseva Batibasaga and Shannon Parry, Shontelle Stowers and Sharni Williams, who will captain the team.
Australia will need hard heads when they face South Africa in the pool stage, as well as China and Ireland.
''It's definitely going to be really tough, it's going to take a lot of hard work and that's what we've been doing over the past couple of months, really attacking our weaknesses and trying to apply that throughout the tournaments,'' Penitani said.
''We've still got a long way to go but we've got a bit of time and the girls are willing to work as hard as possible to make that happen.''
Defence is key for the team, who placed fourth and third in the first two tournaments of this year's World Series but had injuries peg them back to seventh place in the final two, giving them fifth place overall.
New Zealand, England, Canada and the US are poised for strong campaigns, with the Kiwis finishing the World Series 14 points in front of England last month.
But Penitani said the Australians' up and down season put them in a good position to make their mark.
''You don't want to cruise all the way through at the top and have those expectations of maintaining that,'' she said.
''Being ranked a bit lower than what we started out as has made the team really hungry to work harder … It's set a platform for us to rise to.''
The Australian men's team, featuring Bernard Foley, Matt Lucas and Luke Morahan, meet France, Spain and Tunisia in the pool stage.
Read more at smh.com.au
09 MARCH 2014
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