The inaugural AON Women’s Uni 7s Series represents the next big step in the development pathway for Women’s Rugby in Australia, using Sevens as the vehicle for change.
Expectations are high from all quarters but let’s consider what this new competition could really achieve.
Development of potential talent
Aussie Women's Sevens head coach Tim Walsh will be on the sidelines at each of the four tournaments.
He will be a keen observer of the talent and skill level on offer in the hope of adding to the depth of his already impressive pool of national representative and development players.
The next three years will require massive commitment from the Narrabeen unit with a big competition schedule on the calendar and Walsh will be looking to increase his depth in numbers without changing the high standards the current team has worked hard to attain.
Growth of interest, competition at community level
Creating a competition format at the tertiary level of education will extend the pathways currently being created at grassroots level through local clubs, the state unions and even slowly emerging at secondary school level.
With club and regional players combining with university students to form the player base of the Uni7s competition, bridging the gaps between the emerging pathways for women in rugby will be a key outcome of this initiative.
It will also raise awareness for both potential players and the public as the sport of rugby undertakes some much needed rebuilding of its supporter base through the Women’s game.
While rugby crowds at the representative level in Australia have dwindled, there seems to have been a resurgence in interest and attendance at local grounds for watching club footy.
With the Uni7s competition being played in four different locations across eastern Australia, it will be a strong measure of the potential success of this competition and the growing desire to support community rugby, if the supporters turn out in numbers.
Flow-on of increased playing standards
With increased competition comes improved playing and coaching standards.
The anticipated benefits of Uni7s from the point of view of the key stakeholders will be the trickle-down effect on the skill sets required to play the game at a high standard.
The Australian Women’s players who are taking part in the Uni7s competition are aware that an objective of their involvement is to pass on key aspects of their experience and skill sets in what could almost be seen as a mentoring role.
Their off-field legacy will be to not only inspire as role models but to build the capacity of the next generation of talent to perform at a high standard.
Women’s sport is the real winner
The AON Uni7s competition is yet another avenue for exposure of a Women’s sports code taking on the mainstream and winning.
The Aussie Sevens’ team success across 2016 as both the World and Olympic champions was the rocket which rugby needed across the board in encouraging and promoting female engagement in the sport.
In an era where Women’s sports are breaking all sorts of barriers in Australia - with the AFLW, WBBL, NRL Women and the Matildas to name but a few - affecting traditional media and broadcast coverage, organisational and marketplace investment and female participation numbers, rugby Sevens at a domestic national level is a box which needed to be ticked.
The ARU is already boasting that universities outside the eight involved in this year’s inaugural competition are keen to be a part of this initiative in the coming years and it will be looking at expanding the competition from 2018.
Student athletes to benefit
The most immediate outcome of the Uni7s competition, aside from Tim Walsh finding some gems to add to his collection of crown jewels, is the fact that university students who play sport now have another option open to them.
This competition creates a potential pathway beyond the campus and grows the games at all levels through raised awareness and participation.