Youth policy to pay off for women's Sevens after Olympic postponement: Manenti

Womens - Tokyo Olympics
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

Australian women’s Sevens coach John Manenti says his recent youth policy would put his team in good stead as they prepare for a delayed Tokyo Olympics.

The Tokyo Games were postponed until 2021 amid the coronavirus pandemic, throwing out a whole host of teams’ and athletes’ plans that culminated in competing in the 2020 Games.

Players and staff, as with the general public, found out when the IOC announced the news on social media and Manenti said it was still something that many of the group were processing.

“It’s not too hard for me as a coach, I spend my life going through, rolling into year on year,” he said.

“Certainly, for the girls, they’ve been focusing on this alone for four years so it’s an unwanted spanner.”

“Some people it will serve really well and give more time to prepare and some of the younger players will be benefited enormously.

“At the other end of the spectrum, some might need to hang on for another 12 months and it provides a different challenge for girls that in their mind had planned on going to Tokyo in the proper window in 2020 and calling it a day.”

For Australia’s women, the delay could force some changes in their squad but Manenti said he had no indication that any of his senior players were thinking about walking away.

“No one yet in their actions,” he said.

“There will be realities when these girls realise that they’ve got to make a decision but most of them are contracted through until at least August so they’re not really forced to make that decision just yet.

“When we get back to the grind face-to-face, the reality might dawn that another 12 months is a long time when you had made plans (to retire).

“With retiring, the hardest part is making the decision to retire and then it’s hard to refocus that date because you’re retiring to do other things or your body is breaking down.

“Some might find if they planned on calling it a day but might find another 15 months or 12 months from that date, pushing on might be a bridge too far but it’s a personal decision and we’ll support anyone either way.” 

Australia has blooded a handful of younger faces in the past season with injuries and in Emilee Cherry’s case pregnancy keeping some of their higher-profile players off the field.

Manenti said that ability to give younger players experience on the international stage would only be rewarded with the shift in the Olympics.

“I’d be lying if I said no (it’s not a setback) but everyone’s got something going on, we’re not the only ones affected,” he said.

“We’re luckier than the teams in Great Britain or America with our situation.

“We’re just playing with the cards we’re dealt and how we get on with it. I’m really delighted that in the last six months we’ve made really good progress physically and developed some young girls.

“Some of that was forced on us but some of it is part of the bigger picture in development.”

Manenti’s commitment to picking new talent not only in tournaments but also for high-stakes matches in competition has been debated but he is confident it is the best strategy for the squad in the long term.

“Some people questioned and said, ‘Why do you keep pushing young girls in there but you’ve got to be thinking of the future and in that sense, we’re the only team of the top four or five teams really developed young girls into their program into the last 12 months,” he said.

“Now we’ll have another 12 months with them to get them Tokyo ready and that’ll put us in a decent position, with competition for spots that much harder.

“I wouldn’t wish this situation on anyone but I think it’s another hurdle and it’s about how we respond and how we use it to favour us.”

The Sevens program is surrounded by the extra uncertainty beyond August, when many of their players come off contract.

Rugby Australia has been vocal about the possibility of decentralising the men’s and women’s programs, something that Manenti said last week would be a “major step backwards” for the team.