World Series-winning form won't be enough for Aussies in pre-Olympic year

Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman in Japan

Australia’s women are the reigning World Series champions but coach John Manenti says they’ll be battling to qualify for the Olympics if they can’t ensure they improve when the new season kicks off.

There is just a month to go until the opening World Series leg in Denver and that tournament kicks of a critical season for all the sides, with the race for Olympic qualification officially starting.

Only the top four World Series finishers will automatically qualify for the Tokyo Olympics and the rest will be left to fight it out in repechage tournaments.

Australia has easily finished in the top two in the past three seasons, including winning the series twice, but Manenti said they had to take things up another level this season.

Women’s Sevens is becoming increasingly competitive with the advent of the Olympics and more of the top nations are turning professional.

“The pack's coming hard and we've got to do things better than we've done in the past,” Manenti said.

“What we did last to win the World Series probably won't be enough to I reckon get us top three this year.

“The fact the rest of the teams are improving is a credit to them but it also is a great thing for the game and it means that we've got to raise the standard.”

The Aussies took out the first two tournaments of the 2017-18 World Series, including a perfect Sydney 7s where they didn’t concede a point, but injuries and inconsistencies relegate further down the order as the season went on.

Australia’s side has been at times out-muscled by some of the improving nations, though the Rio champions’ skills and athleticism have kept them at the top.

Already they have begun making some changes, with a reshuffle in their strength and conditioning department 'refreshing' the players.

Manenti, who is an experienced men’s XVs coach, said they had focused on being more combative but not at the expense of their traditional strengths.

“It has a bit but I don't want to get too obsessed by it because I still think our strength is our ability to move the ball and using our speed and fitness, so although I've tried to improve in those areas there I don't want to get too side-tracked it so we start playing too much of a collision based game,” he said.

“We've got the balance going well so we are able to increase the contact side of things but still getting back into trying to be creative and playing the space and using the ball which is always been our trademark.”

With a host of the team from Rio re-signing, and more expected to follow, this Olympic process will be a familiar one for the Aussies and playmaker Alicia Quirk said that familiarity would be handy.

“For us it was such a positive experience (leading into Rio) too, so it makes us really appreciate the steps in the process and I think to be able to pass on all of that information to the young group and the whole squad as well is really exciting,” she said.