Thursday marked the official launch of the Aon Uni 7s but really, it marked far more than that.
This marked the opportunity for hundreds of young women, some with rugby backgrounds, some without, to fall in love with the sport inspired the gold medal-winning 2016 Olympians to pick up a ball and take up rugby.
Women such as Emilee Cherry and Chloe Dalton, who will both feature in the tournament, both of whom now have gold medals hanging around their necks.
“It’s going to be a groundbreaking pathway for rugby Sevens,” Cherry said, decked out in her maroon University of Queensland jersey at the launch in Sydney.
“It gives an opportunity for girls who may be wondering how they get into our squad, or how they get into the sport, it’s an excellent pathway all the universities have backed.”
Cherry’s comments echoed that of Australian Women's Sevens coach Tim Walsh, who is excited to “cast the net out” for the best female Aussie sporting talent through the competition.Walsh also mentioned the ripple effect the tournament will have for the national team, by not only creating a logical and clearly defined pathway, but also by getting the girls playing high quality opposition frequently.
Cherry echoed those sentiments.
“We’ve seen after Rio, we’ve had a few girls retire, a few girls leave, so we’ve got a few spots (in the national team)up for grabs,” she said.
“It’s a really exciting prospect knowing that we might be able to find new girls, having these Australian players go back to the university teams and mentor those girls, it’s only going to grow Women’s rugby Sevens in Australia more.”
Chloe Dalton, the marquee player for the Macquarie University team, spoke similarly of now being the right time to start to think broader to grow Women’s Sevens, almost 12 months removed from the excitement of Olympic gold.“It’s a massive step forward for creating the pathway, a lot of people have been wondering what the best way is to get into the Aussie sevens program,” Dalton said.
“I think it’s so great that it’s giving those girls an opportunity to not only play in the Uni 7s comp, but also the training programs that have been set up already, (the competition is) going to be a pretty good standard.”
The competition will also afford opportunity to young women from non-traditional rugby markets, as well as those from the big cities.
Included in this year’s competition are institutions based in traditional rugby states such as UQ, Griffith, Bond, Macquarie and Canberra, as well as Adelaide, from South Australia, and Tasmania, from the island state.
The University of New England in Armidale, New South Wales, is the representative for regional Australia, extending a chance to girls from the country to try their hand at rugby.
“It’s great for those girls who aren’t necessarily massive on rugby union to be able to play against Australia’s best,” Dalton said.
“Whether they’re diehard rugby fans or whether they’ve never seen rugby before, it’s going to be awesome to have it on home soil, get people watching and hopefully get young girls involved.”
With each university featuring two internationals, and a squad comprising at least 50% of university students, the Uni 7s is just as Cherry describes it – a “groundbreaking” opportunity for young women, rugby fan or not.