The Australian women’s sevens program will sign more players and contemplate a rotation strategy in the 2020 Olympic year after World Rugby announced radical changes to the Men’s and Women’s World Sevens Series.
The Women’s World Series will expand from six tournaments to eight tournaments in the 2019-20 season, and six of those will now be combined tournaments with the Men’s World Series; as seen at the Sydney Sevens.
Sydney has retained its host city status for another four years but venues and dates are yet to be finalised by Rugby Australia.
The historic Hong Kong Sevens will become mixed under the changes, and New Zealand will also add a women’s tournament alongside the men.
Significantly, for the first time the Women’s World Sevens Series will play in back-to-back tournaments on consecutive weekends with the men as well, on the Dubai-Cape Town swing and then in the New Zealand sevens a weekend before Sydney.
The additional tournaments, and a 50 per cent increase in joint tournaments, were both welcomed by key Aussie sevens identities on Wednesday, with women’s co-captain Sharni Williams saying it was a huge win for women’s rugby.
"Coming after international women’s day, it's good news great that World Rugby and Rugby Australia and all the companies are really jumping on board and all recognising women and what they’re capable of doing,” Williams said.
But the massive World Series changes for the 2019-2020 season have also seen Australian coaches and players already putting their minds to the physical and mental impacts in an Olympic year.
More tournaments are not a huge issue but the back-to-back tournaments will be testing on a workload front.
History has shown on the Men’s World Sevens Series that players are often weary on the second weekend, and the tournaments are often attritional with lots of injuries.
That’d be fine in an ordinary season but ahead of a campaign to defend their Olympic title, the Aussie women’s sevens team will be extra careful to not see star players pick up injuries.
Australian Sevens high performance manager Scott Bowen said they would contemplate strategic workload management in 2020, and call upon the strength in depth created in the Aon Uni 7s by boosting their full-time squad from 18 to around 25 full-timers.
"It’s certainly good to have more tournaments and more competition, that’s a big positive,” Bowen said.
"Certainly the back-to-backs are a bit of an unknown. We have done them previously, in 2014 and 2015, we did Atlanta and Sao Paolo. And we performed really well in both of those legs, especially the second legs.
"It will certainly have an impact physically and mentally. You’ll end up having to grow your squads, we will take on more full-time athletes to be able to cater for the extra work load and also enable you to maybe be selective who is playing in what tournaments."
"In an Olympic year, the Olympics is a one-off event. We don’t actually have to be conditioned around playing back-to-backs. So it may be that your key, core best players don’t play in both legs of a back-to-back. We’ll see. We may look to manage that.”
The current 2018-19 series is the Olympic qualifying season but the 2019-20 is not meaningless. The combined point tallies from the two seasons will determine the seedings at the Olympics, and the highest seeding as possible is important so a heavyweight clash such as New Zealand-Australia doesn’t end up occurring in a semi-final.
Boosting from the current count of one in Sydney, the addition of Hong Kong and New Zealand joint tournaments means the Aussie women’s sevens team will play in three timezone friendly tournaments.
“This is an exciting development for the Qantas Australian Women’s Sevens team and for Women’s Rugby more broadly,” Rugby Australia Chief Executive Raelene Castle said in a statement.
“The increase in rounds creates more playing opportunities for our squad and changes the nature of the series by extending its duration.
“It will also provide more broadcast content for fans and more opportunities to grow the game at home.
“Equality between our female and male players is something that Rugby Australia has strived for since we made the HSBC Sydney 7s a combined tournament and it’s fantastic for the global game that there will be more joint tournaments across the Series next season.”
Aussie women’s coach John Manenti said the Women’s Series aligning with the men was a testament to the vastly improved standard of the women’s tour.
“The renaissance of Women’s Sport in Australia makes us leaders in this space and we want athletes to know that Rugby is a viable career option for them and to realise their Olympic dream,” Manenti said in a statement.
“With more rounds means that we can create more professional opportunities for elite players and I look forward to seeing a robust Aon University Sevens Series this year as the competition for spots from old and new players heats up.”
The USA Sevens men’s tournament is yet to be finalised, and so was not announced.
2019-2020 HSBC Sevens World Series
HSBC USA Women’s Sevens – Glendale, Colorado
Emirates Airline Dubai Sevens**
HSBC Cape Town Sevens **
HSBC New Zealand Sevens**
HSBC Sydney Sevens**
HSBC Canada Men's Sevens - Vancouver
Hong Kong Sevens**
HSBC Singapore Men's Sevens
HSBC Canada Women’s Sevens – Langford
HSBC London Men's Sevens
HSBC Paris Sevens **
**Combined men’s and women’s sevens events for the season 2020 and starting in 2019.