"Shut-the-gate factor": Aussie sevens put Rocket Rod on the launchpad

by Iain Payten

Australian men’s sevens coach Tim Walsh hopes the recruitment of former Wallabies speedster Rod Davies will add some much-needed “shut the gate” factor ahead of a crucial Olympic qualifying campaign.

Davies, who is known as “Rocket” due to his express pace, has signed a two-year deal with the Aussie men’s sevens program and will finish up with the Western Force next week.

Davies won a Super Rugby title with the Queensland Reds in 2011 and played a single Test for the Wallabies in the same year, against Samoa in the infamously bruising Test at ANZ Stadium.

Davies returned after stints in Japan and France to play for the Force in 2018 and was drafted in by the Australian sevens team for the Vancouver leg of the World Series earlier this year.

He suffered an ankle injury at the tournament but Walsh was impressed and sought to bring the 30-year-old into the Australian sevens program full-time for the 2019-20 World Series, and the 2020 Olympic campaign.

"Even last year when he came in for the Vancouver tournament, and all the lead-up he did for it, he was half-a-second quicker than most of our quick blokes,” Walsh said. 

"So yep, obviously speed is what we were chasing but then you add his maturity, his professionalism, his defence and it’s a really good acquisition for us in many aspects, on and off the field.

"He is someone who really knows his trade. You know how to be professional, you know what’s going to work and you can start challenging yourself in different ways, such as mentoring and also leading. Rocket has a very unique style in which he plays but also leads, and he does that by example. He is going to bring that jet speed but he also has all the other attributes that are clinical.”

Along with Aussie sprinting recruit Trae Williams, Walsh now has two rapid wingers on his books and he said Davies has the potency to run in long-range tries that can help his teammates conserve energy, and ultimately win tournaments.

"You look at the World Series these days and most teams have a player that is genuinely shut-the-gate,” Walsh said.

“(Dan) Norton, (Perry) Baker, Carlin Isles, (Siviwe) Soyizwapi; they are guys who can genuinely run the length and they’re all the teams in the top four. 

"It is one of those attributes you want. Yes, you can make breaks but you have to play another three or four phases to get over the line. 

"To be able to make the break and shut the gate, and then conserve energy, over a weekend, that can really make a difference. 

"We are fit but if you get to game six and one team is fresher than the other, for that reason, that can be the marginal difference between the teams.”

Davies said he was enthused by his short stint with the Aussie sevens team earlier in the year.

“I like what Tim Walsh is about and what he is trying to build with the team,” Davies said in a release.

“It’s a young team, although I am inexperienced with Sevens, I have been around Rugby for a long time so I can bring some experience to the squad. 

“One of my goals is to help this team qualify for the Olympics and to put on a jersey at an Olympic Games would be very special for me. 

“Anytime you get to put an Australian jersey on at any level it’s always an honour and if I get the chance in the future, I’ll take it with both hands.”

Walsh praised the Force for bringing Davies back to Australia last year, and releasing him to play for the Aussie sevens program when selected. 

"We had a great relationship with him for the Force to be able to do that, and hopefully that’s setting a pathway,” Walsh said.