Decentralisation would be "massive step backwards" but Sevens women ready to adapt: Manenti

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by Beth Newman

Aussie women’s Sevens coach John Manenti says decentralisation would be a "massive step backwards" for the program but if financial pressures force a change, his team will be ready to adapt.

Rugby Australia CEO Raelene Castle has flagged a scaling back of the program including shifting both the men’s and women’s programs back to decentralised models.

In that case, players would train out of their home states and come together as an entire squad only for tournaments.

Sevens squads had previously operated this way but the women's program was centralised in 2014 in a bid to push for  Olympic success.

That commitment yielded results in Rio with the women taking home the inaugural gold medal in Brazil.

Manenti said if there was a choice they would opt to remain centralised but the long-time coach said they were very aware that they were just one part of rugby’s bigger picture.

“The reason we centralised five or six years ago was all around getting to a world class standard, and we achieved that by winning in Rio,” he said.

“We would clearly not want to go back to that standard but we’re a piece in a really big puzzle of what money’s spent on and we’ve got our obligation to make sure the game survives first and flourishes beyond it.”

“Do we want it? No we don’t and hopefully we maybe only do it for a short time but we’ve got to be adaptable around that.”

In a league of her own.

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Manenti has led a decentralised program to success in the past, coaching the Wallaroos in 2020 to their best World Cup finish, a third-place in 2010.

”I coached the Wallaroos in 2010 and the whole squad was satellite and we ended up third in the World Cup and they were a really committed bunch of girls,” he said.

“It is doable, it’s not  what you’d wish for and with the advances we’ve made it would be a massive step backwards as a program but it is what it is.”

Manenti said in his view there were still ways to avoid that decentralisation, though that could come at the cost of squad sizes and staffing.

“We’re confident that with some serious tightening of the belt and losing some of the fringe benefits that go along with the program, that we can do keep going as a centralised program albeit with a few less bells and whistles but it’ll depend when we can start money back in the coffers.”

“There’s no question we’re going to have to have less players in our squads, not forever but for the short-term and we’re going to have to have a look at that.

“There’s been some  really exciting and great development stuff with PONI (Players of National Interest) squad around those things. 

“They’re not going to stop forever, it just might be on ice for a bit. 

“Our primary goal is Tokyo in the short-term and we’re going to have to make sure we use the resources to make sure we perform in Tokyo.”

The Sevens plans have been disrupted as much as any forms of rugby with the Tokyo Olympics shifted back one year to 2021.

When that news was confirmed at the start of the month, the Sevens squads were put on leave, from which they have returned this week and many have returned to their home states.

Australia’s women who are based in Sydney are doing one on one training sessions, observing social distancing, while those interstate are being trained virtually as many Super Rugby teams are.

Manenti said he hoped to be able to bring the squad back together as soon as possible but that would depend on border restrictions in Queensland particularly, where many of his players are from, and the easing of government restrictions.

Currently the entire World Series has been pushed back with the next women’s tournament not scheduled to be played until October.

Sevens has the added complication of few domestic options, unlike Australia's professional XVs teams, meaning any top level competition would likely be near impossible until most of the world relaxes its border controls.