Rugby officially returns to the Olympic program after a 90-year absence on Sunday at the Youth Olympics in Nanjing – and the Australian Women’s Sevens team will be right in the thick of the action.
The Women’s Rugby Sevens team open their campaign at the Youth Olympic Sports Park Rugby Field by heading into the unknown with a game against Tunisia at 11am (AEST) on Sunday.
Scott Bowen, who is coaching the squad in Nanjing, believe that both he and Head Coach Tim Walsh have selected a balanced squad that is ready to rock China while in the preparation camps the girls were mentored by current IRB Women’s Sevens Player of the Year Emilee Cherry, who offered advice and took part in coaching sessions with the team.
"There are different levels of experience within the team. There's Brooke Anderson and Tiana Penitani who have been a part of the senior national Women's Sevens program and have played in IRB tournaments. That said, they're only 18 years of age and while they have a fair bit of experience, they have in fact only been playing the game for around 18 months. Other girls in the squad, meanwhile, are pretty much in their first year so we're really fortunate to have a group of players that have a strong footballing background...more through touch football so they're actual catch, pass and game skills is actually very good. The main thing we obviously need to work on is the area around the contact and then bringing them all around team strategy so they can gel and give them the opportunity to play well.
"There are a number of talented girls in this team that people should be looking out for. We saw a number of them at the National Senior Women's Sevens championships at the AIS back in March. There was Raecene Macgregor, Amber Pilley and Dom Du Toit. Dom was named as the Most valuable Player at last year's Youth Championship at the Gold Coast. Other players include Laura Waldie and talented Indigenous girls such as Caitlin Moran too.
Former Wallaby Bowen heaped praise on Women’s Head Coach Tim Walsh, likely to miss the Youth Olympics to be with this partner and new-born son in Sydney.
"What Tim Walsh has done as the Senior Women's Head coach with our preparation for the girls, in leading all areas, has been really good. I think we've given the girls a really good grounding of what is required to do well. Now it is just up to them to just get out there and enjoy the experience of playing at a Youth Olympics, play well, and then hopefully enjoy all of the off-field activities as well and support their fellow Australian team-mates in other sports.”
Despite the Australian Women’s Rugby Sevens pedigree, some well-qualified Sevens observers have identified Canada as potential Gold Medal winners come next Tuesday.
Bowen added: "We're going there to win and I think that's a realistic goal. But we're also going there with little knowledge of the side's we'll be coming up against, purely because we don't know the level of resources other countries are putting into their Sevens programs. You'd expect Spain and Canada to be well prepared as they've both been running centralised programs for a couple of years now. It'll be interesting to see the standard and level of the competition. Hopefully our girls improve throughout the event, and if they do, then I'm sure we'll be in a pretty good position to bring home a Gold Medal."
Australian fans wanting to watch the Women’s Rugby Sevens in Nanjing can do so via Olympic.tv
The 2014 Australian Women’s Youth Olympic Rugby Sevens fixtures in Nanjing, China on 17-19 August 2014:
Australia v Tunisia (11am AEST, 17 August)
Australia v China (6pm AEST, 17 August)
Australia v USA (11am AEST, 18 August)
Australia v Spain (7pm AEST, 18 August)
Australia v Canada (Midday AEST, 19 August)
Medal Matches (from 7pm AEST, 19 August)
The 2014 Australian Women’s Youth Olympic Rugby Sevens team that will represent Australia in Nanjing:
Tiana Penitani - co-captain, 18 years old Matraville NSW
Brooke Anderson - co-captain, 18, Brighton Le Sands NSW
Marioulla Belessis, 17, Highgate Hill QLD
Shenae Ciesiolka, 16 (17 at Games), Westbrook QLD / Belmont NSW
Dominique Du Toit, 17, Highfields QLD
Kellie Gibson, 18, Ellenbrook WA
Tayla Stanford, 18, Bunyan, NSW
Raecene McGregor, 16, Yagoona NSW
Caitlin Moran, 17, Cardiff South NSW
Amber Pilley, 16, Tugun QLD
Mackenzie Sadler, 17, Kensington Park SA
Laura Waldie, 17, Camp Hill QLD