What do you get when you put six touch footballers, a hockey player, a basketballer, a sprinter and a radiographer together with a couple of Rugby players?
Olympic Gold in Women’s Rugby.
After the IOC announced that Rugby Sevens would be added to the programme for the Rio Olympics, the ARU commenced a vigorous talent identification process. Its purpose – to assemble a team capable of toppling New Zealand as the world’s number one team.
Scouts were dispatched and trials were held. Instructions were simple, it didn’t matter what sport whether it be Basketball, Rugby, League, Hockey, Athletics or Touch Football, just find the best players and contract them. It was then up to coach Tim Walsh to mould them into the world’s best Rugby team.
For most, the hardest skill to develop is the most important. If you miss a tackle in sevens rugby, your opponent scores. So hours were spent on teaching the art of the tackle to each new recruit. So much time that players began to relish the sessions spent in the sand laying tackle after tackle, learning the skill and conditioning the body to the toll it inflicts.
The addition of the exciting recruits and the punishing training regime was reflected in improved results leading into the Olympics. The Pearls dominated the 2015-16 World Series, the ARU had identified their players and Tim Walsh had moulded them. They were ready for Rio.
The team selected to complete the mission was:
|1||Shannon Parry||26||Forward||QLD||Co-captain with her fellow ‘Bash Brother’ Williams, she captained Australia at 2014 WRWC|
|2||Sharni Williams||28||Forward||ACT||A Sportress favourite, extremely dependable and reliable, Williams played in every leg of World Series from 2012 until this year|
|3||Nicole Beck||28||Utility||NSW||Became an internet sensation after this try saving tackle at 2010 Women’s World Cup, watch it here|
|4||Gemma Etheridge||29||Forward||QLD||Recovered from a Knee Reconstruction in March to take her place in Rio.|
|5||Emma Tonegato||21||Back||NSW||A former Rugby League player, she was named in the 2015-16 Team of the World Series.|
|6||Evania Pelite||21||Utility||QLD||An Australian touch football representative, she has a canny knack for breaking the defensive line|
|7||Charlotte Caslick||21||Back||QLD||Considered by many to be the player of the tournament and best player in World Sevens|
|8||Chloe Dalton||23||Forward||NSW||Former Basketballer for the Sydney Flames, Dalton switched to Rugby in 2014.|
|9||Amy Turner||32||Utility||QLD||A former NZ Touch Football representative, she has been a main stay of the Pearls team since 2012|
|10||Alicia Quirk||24||Back||NSW||An Australian touch football representative, she is considered the fittest member of the Pearls squad|
|11||Emilee Cherry||24||Back||QLD||2014 World Sevens Player of the Year|
|12||Ellia Green||23||Back||VIC||A former sprinter, the Green Machine is lighting in open field, watch one of her long range efforts here|
Australia joined eleven other countries to contest the first ever Women’s Rugby Gold Medal. To claim their prize they would need to successfully navigate their way through 6 games across three days.
On Tuesday Morning Australian time, after 34 high octane sevens matches, Australia and New Zealand ran out onto Deodoro Stadium for the most important game of them all. The final that almost seemed predestined was upon us, the two best teams in the world squaring off for Olympic Gold.
Australia took longer to settle than their Trans-Tasman neighbours an early mistake gifting the Kiwis both possession and territorial advantage. New Zealand tried hard to take advantage of their early dominance but their first try scoring opportunity was thwarted by desperate defence from captain Shannon Parry. They would not be denied long though, capitalising on a crooked throw they opened the scoring through a try out wide to Kayla McAlister.
Though rattled, Australia continued to weather New Zealand’s blitz until the tide began to turn. From their first real attacking foray Emma Tonegato found space and set sail for the try line, the flyer was tackled but still ended up across the stripe.
Amidst protestations from New Zealand, who felt Tonegato had lost control of the ball, Spanish Referee Alhambra Nievas consulted with an assistant referee and in-goal judge. Satisfied, Nievas awarded the try and Australia were back level.
Speaking after the match New Zealand coach Sean Hogan didn’t try to hide his feelings “It was influential” he answered when asked about the call “its sport and you’ve got humans in the middle who make mistakes. But it’s a big stage and the reality it is that if there’s technology, it needs to be used.”
In truth, the actual turning point happened after this, with half time approaching the Pearls attacked the New Zealand line with renewed vigour. In a last ditch effort to prevent an overlap, Kiwi Champ Portia Woodman knocked the last Australian pass to the ground drawing an immediate yellow card.
Now with a numerical advantage, the Pearls, through an almost identical play Evania Pelite over in the corner to take a 10-5 lead into the break.
Australia continued to press with their extra player and extended their lead through Suva born flyer Ellia Green. ‘The Green Machine’s’ try was converted by former basketballer Chloe Dalton. It was now the kiwis turn to try and hang on.
However their discipline let them down again and the Pearls were gifted a brilliant attacking opportunity with the Kiwi’s giving up another penalty deep in defence. Charlotte Caslick, judged by many as the best player in the world, stepped up to take the quick tap. Her brilliant final was capped off as the New Zealand defence hung off her awaiting the pass that never came and she crossed the line practically untouched. Again, Dalton added the extras and at 24-5 the final was over.
New Zealand added two consolation tries to make the final margin a little more respectable 24-17.
All that was left now was for the celebrations.
Try scorer Emma Tonegato was in disbelief “I can’t really comprehend it at the moment, to take it all in just now, but it’s a special moment to do this with these girls.”
Ellia Green hoped the win would provide inspiration for young women “this means a lot. I was a young girl born in Fiji and raised in Australia. I hope this inspires Islander girls around the world, Australian’s and young women to play rugby and do whatever they want” she beamed “there are no limitations for women in sport.”
It was a sentiment shared by co-captain Shannon Parry “with the squad we’ve got we’re trailblazers, providing the pathway that women’s rugby is a sport that girls can play. For us, it’s about being role models for that next generation.”
Coach Tim Walsh went further “Because they were touch players and wear ribbons and pig tails and sing songs doesn’t mean they are not world class rugby players and ruthless in defence and I think they showed that to everybody.
“I hope this showed a real sustainable future for rugby sevens at the Olympics. That was a catalyst for all these teams going professional and making new role models and new leaders in women’s sport.”
In the immediate afterglow of the win anything seemed possible, but for now, let’s celebrate the 2016 Olympic Women’s Rugby Champions – Australia.