The Australian women’s sevens team will take their first competitive step towards defending their Olympic gold medal next year by returning en masse to the Aon Uni 7s competition later this month.
But with an extended World Series kicking off soon after - that will feature back-to-back tournaments on the women’s tour for the first time - Aussie coach John Manenti has already planned out strategic mid-season rests for stars such as Charlotte Caslick and Vani Pelite.
The Australian team has been buried in pre-season slog for the last few months but will get a chance to finally play when the Aon Uni 7s competition kicks off in University of Queensland on September 14-15.
Most of the Rio gold medallists played in the inaugural Aon Uni 7s in 2017 but sat out last year due to a congested global calendar.
They’re all back in the mix this year, however, and Manenti has instructed his national stars they’re not only there to help impart their knowledge to rising up-and-comers, he wants them to stamp their class on the completion and elevate the standard for everyone’s benefit.
"We have a good splattering of all the girls in the teams, and I am expecting them to perform well,” Manenti said.
"They have been told they are going in as national players and I expect you to play like that. There is also an opportunity for some of the girls who are also very close to being here to play those girls and give them the best shot of showing how good they are as well.
"It is a great opportunity for those girls to see where they at.
"Mentally they (the Aussie players) can support them with knowledge, how to prepare for the game, just being in the dressing room gives them great confidence. "
The Australian players are set to play in the first round to tune up for the opening leg of the World Series in Colorado on October 5-6.
It is the first of an expanded World Sevens Series in 2019-20, that will see it expand from six tournaments to eight tournaments. Six be combined tournaments with the Men’s World Series; as seen at the Sydney Sevens - including new venues Hong Kong, New Zealand and Cape Town.
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.
It’s a far cry from the 2015-16 season leading into Rio, which saw only five solo tournaments and no Aon Uni 7s competition either.
The impact of an increased workload has been in Manenti’s mind for some time, particularly the unprecedented physical demands of tournaments on consecutive weekends.
Men’s sevens has had back-to-backs for a long time but 2019-2020 will be the first time women face the challenge.
"My plan is already to rest certain players at certain stages but of course you don’t know what happens after tournament one,” Manenti said.
"You could have a couple of injuries and things change. But we have now is a strong squad of 20-plus players who are putting their hand up.
"Some of the young girls, who haven’t debuted yet, have been outstanding in the pre-season and are really saying pick me with their effort and performance and I look forward to the effort and opportunity to give them a go over the first three tournaments.”
Caslick is one such superstar with a planned workload over the next year, and will in fact sit out the Aon Uni 7s opening round to rest up a few niggles ahead of Colorado.
She is slated to play in round four at Canberra Uni.
"I love obviously playing, I love playing footy. But John has spoken to me about there will be times when he makes the call and I just have to do as I am told. I think I am happy for him to do that,” Caslick said.
"If it was up to me I would play every minute of every game.”
Planning for what is a hugely different lead-up to the 2020 Olympics, compared to four years ago, will be another area of fascinating competition between gold medal contenders, believes Caslick.
"The back-to-backs are a massive curve ball that have come in and it’s going to be different for everyone,” she said.
"Everyone is in the same boat, but every team has to play in these tournaments. But it will be interesting to see how everyone backs up.
"We have Colorado and then go straight into a back-to-back at Dubai and Cape Town, so I am very interested to see how we go with a back-to-back set-up, as well as the other teams and more tournaments, more travelling.
"It is definitely going to affect the bodies, so we will have to look after ourselves.
"It’s a long season and to be able to peak at the right time is really important for us.
"We want to put our best foot forward throughout the World Series but we all know the Olympic Games is what everyone is aiming for, and we’ll hopefully be in our best condition come that time.”
ALL ROUNDS OF THE Aon UNI 7S WILL BE STREAMED LIVE ON RUGBY.COM.AU.
Aon Uni 7s Series 2019
September 14-15, University of Queensland
September 28-29, Bond University
October 12-13, University of Adelaide
October 26-27, University of Canberra