Golden girls in­spire next gen­er­a­tion of 7s stars

More girls are tak­ing up the sport after Aus­tralia’s Olympic suc­cess

7 Days in Dubai - - DUBAI RUGBY SEVENS - By Adrian Back @aidy­back adrian@7days.ae

At the start of 2013 the Aus­tralian Sevens pro­gramme made the de­ci­sion to of­fer pro­fes­sional con­tracts to its women’s team as they set out to land an Olympic medal in Rio de Janeiro.

Hav­ing seen New Zealand dom­i­nate the sevens cir­cuit for so long, the Aus­tralian man­age­ment re­alised they needed to re­cruit the most tal­ented ath­letes from across the coun­try.

All of a sud­den those with a back­ground in hockey, ten­nis or touch rugby were be­ing in­tro­duced to the fast-paced game of sevens.

Three years later the Aus­tralian team ar­rive in Dubai as de­fend­ing HSBC Sevens Se­ries cham­pi­ons and hav­ing achieved their dream of win­ning Olympic gold.

It has been a re­mark­able rise and one that has been em­bod­ied by player of the year Char­lotte Caslick (right).

The 21-year-old is now re­garded as one of the best sevens play­ers in the world after be­ing iden­ti­fied by Aus­tralian sevens coaches back in 2012.

“My back­ground was in touch foot­ball but now sevens is be­com­ing a more spe­cialised sport,” Caslick told 7DAYS. “The ath­letes used to come from other sports but sevens has grown so much thanks to the ex­po­sure after the Olympics.

“Now there are more grass­roots projects be­ing put in place and the amount of girls play­ing rugby has

sky­rock­eted.”

GROW­ING THE GAME

It is a change that has been no­ticed by the whole of the Aus­tralian squad who, since re­turn­ing from Rio have, be­come na­tional he­roes. Ali­cia Quirk was also brought into the sevens setup through touch and be­lieves the suc­cess out in Brazil has had a huge ef­fect on how the game is viewed in Aus­tralia. “When we first started play­ing we wanted to change the per­cep­tion of rugby in Aus­tralia and around the world, said Quirk. “Es­pe­cially given our back­ground sto­ries and that we hadn’t played the game.

“Now we have young girls join­ing, we are bring­ing on that next gen­er­a­tion be­cause of what they saw at the Olympics.”

For­ward Shan­non Perry has also seen a growth in the sport hav­ing her­self tran­si­tioned from ten­nis and hockey to sevens back in 2012. “Win­ning the gold has put us on a pedestal and lots of girls and lot of rugby clubs are ac­cept­ing fe­male en­trants,” she said.

“It has def­i­nitely opened peo­ple’s eyes and started to change so­ci­ety’s per­cep­tion that it is more so­cially ac­cept­able for women to play rugby.”

THE NEXT GEN­ER­A­TION

Cap­tain Sharni Wil­liams has wit­nessed this growth first-hand

45 Points scored by Caslick dur­ing the 2015/16 sevens se­ries

hav­ing played in ev­ery leg Sevens World Se­ries since its in­cep­tion in Novem­ber 2012 un­til in­jury ruled her out of the Sao Paulo Sevens in Fe­bru­ary 2016.

She made her de­but in Dubai back in 2012 and has been taken aback by how far the game has come in that time.

“It’s been a bless­ing to see the way it’s grown,” said Wil­liams.

“The re­cep­tion we got in the hangar when we ar­rived home after Rio was amaz­ing. I have met so many mums who now want to buy their daugh­ters hel­mets and mouth­guards and see them play. Just see­ing it evolve has been great.”

Now Aus­tralia hope to con­tinue to grow the game by en­joy­ing more suc­cess - start­ing in Dubai. They are the team to beat and they plan to live up to their favourites tag.

“The slate has been wiped clean now and there is a lot of new tal­ent out there,” said Quirk.

“But we want to make more his­tory and dom­i­nate as New Zealand did.

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