While most of the focus in Fiji this weekend was on Australia’s men and their quest for an Olympic spot, Australia’s women faced their own challenge in the Oceania Sevens.
Having already sewn up their own Tokyo berth, Aussie women’s coach John Manenti named a number of new faces in his squad for the tournament, looking for them to prove themselves.
A group that included Uni 7s standouts Georgia Hannaway and Rachel Crothers was set for a major litmus test in Fiji, taking on New Zealand, Canada and Japan.
Two wins over New Zealand in as many days, against a squad that included Kiwi veteran Portia Woodman, and a victory over hosts Fiji gave the women the title and a major confidence boost.
Manenti said the gold medal was ultimately a bonus for his young side.
“I suppose we obviously always want a win when we play but this was more about giving exposure and minutes to some of our younger girls and probably the biggest thing we got out of it was testing them against good quality teams,” he said.
“We obviously played New Zealand twice and a good Canadian team and a good Japanese team, the World Series Japanese team, so those three games were good and then tonight we had to show a bit of character coming home against the Fijians - down 12-0, in front of their home crowd and a few things going against us - so I think we learned a lot and they'll be better for the tournament now."
What a weekend we’ve had at #Oceania7s! 💚💛— AU 7s (@Aussie7s) November 9, 2019
✅ Both teams won all games
✅ Heaps of young talent on show
✅ Olympic Qualification for the Men
✅ Gold medals for both teams
It’s one to remember. Go #Aussie7s! 🇦🇺🇦🇺🇦🇺 pic.twitter.com/yAppABDtnQ
Hannaway was among one of the best for Australia in the tournament, along with youngsters Faith Nathan and Madison Ashby.
Manenti said their performances over the three-day competition showed that there was a level of players below the national squad more than capable of taking the step up to World Series rugby.
“Obviously a lot of our top girls didn't play but it gives us a lot of confidence that the girls that are at the next level are ready to step up and take their opportunities when they present,” he said.
“So, really happy in particular with Maddie Ashby, Faith Nathan, thought they were outstanding, Georgia Hannaway in her first tournament showed she's got something special which obviously we'll get to see over time.”
Manenti reserved special praise for skipper Shannon Parry, who shouldered extra leadership weight as the most experienced player in the Oceania side.
“I thought Shannon Parry as the captain and the experienced player gave us a lot especially in some of those earlier games of the tournament where she was doing a lot of the unheralded work and cleaning up for the other girls,” he said.
“Obviously the big thing on the weekend was getting the boys to the Olympics which was great to see but we got plenty out of it too.”
Australia’s women returned home on Sunday and will next run out at December’s Dubai Sevens.