On Tuesday we reviewed the first half of the season for the Qantas Australian Women's Sevens team - today, we look at how the team qualified for the Rio 2016 Olympics.
In an increasingly competitive Women's Sevens World Series, once again Australia reached a Cup Final only to be pipped at the post once again by New Zealand (17-10) in Sao Paulo. Level at ten-points apiece in the decider, the Aussies had an attacking scrum five metres out only for the ball to be turned over. The ball was worked to Portia Woodman on the left who stormed clear from deep inside her own half to claim the unlikeliest of victories. "In my opinion, it's another final that got away from us," said Head Coach Tim Walsh post-game.
Australia's Olympic qualification hopes took an unexpected hit in Atlanta, USA. Despite cruising into the Cup Quarter-Finals, the Aussies lost in sudden-death extra-time to a galvanised USA. Victories over England and France secured the Plate trophy. The disappointment of a fifth-place finish was deepened with the news that World Sevens Player of the Year Emilee Cherry would be out for six weeks with a knee injury.
After impressing at the National Sevens Championships a month earlier, Nikki Etheridge was recalled to the Australian side to play in Langford, Canada. Twin Gemma was also named in Walsh's squad after recovering from an ankle problem. Ten tries from Ellia Green over the course of the weekend - and a place in the tournament Dream Team - were not enough to prevent a seventh-place finish at a packed Westhills Stadium. A shock loss to Russia at the Cup Quarter-Final stage was followed by the team's heaviest loss in the Women's Sevens World Series against the USA. At the end of the weekend, Australia dropped to third in the standings, just eight points clear of the fast-improving Americans with automatic Olympic qualification in the balance.
With centre Emilee Cherry back in the ranks after injury, Australia bounced back in the best way possible to claim the inaugural London Sevens crown. An undefeated Day One was followed by a memorable Day Two. Spain were accounted for at the Cup Qaurter-Final stage, before newly-crowned Women's Sevens World Series champions New Zealand were soundly beaten in the Semi-Finals. Two scores down - with a player in the sin-bin - and only four minutes left on the clock at Twickenham against a rampant Canadian side, Australia engineered one of the finest comebacks in Sevens history to claim an astonishing victory. Charlotte Caslick gave her side hope to reduce the arrears late on before Nicole Beck finished off a fine move to give the Australians hope going into the final play of the game. Ellia Green received the ball out wide, turned on the afterburners, and crossed over after the siren to seal the game amidst emotional scenes on and off the pitch.
A week later in Amsterdam, the Australian Women's Sevens side became the first from any team sport to qualify for the Rio 2016 Olympics from these shores. Progress from the pool stages guaranteed a top four spot on the World Series standings, and led by forwards Shannon Parry and Sharni Williams, breezed into the Cup Final after seeing off Russia in the Cup Quarters and England in the Semi-Finals. In a see-saw Cup Final, Canada exacted some sort of the revenge on their Aussie counterparts for London sevens days earlier when Ghislaine Landry raced clear to touch down with just 40 seconds left on the clock. The defeat meant Australia had to settle for third spot in the 2014/15 Women's Sevens World Series standings.
Exciting half-back Charlotte Caslick was shortlisted for the 2015 Women's Sevens Player of the Year award alongside New Zealand's Portia Woodman and Sarah Goss as well as Russia's Nadezhda Kudinova.