Australia’s golden girls of sevens have given rugby priceless momentum to enchant a new breed of athletic go-getters to keep nourishing the sport.
The impact of the superb Commonwealth Games gold medal in Birmingham is huge on multiple levels.
A whole new cast is up in lights with youthful stars like Faith Nathan, Madi Ashby, Maddi Levi, Sariah Paki and Alysia Lefau-Fakaosilea featuring in the 22-12 win over Fiji in the final.
Nathan is the oldest of that group at just 22 while the calm, slick passing and playmaking of Ashby is all controlled from a 21-year-old pair of hands.
At 20, Levi is a bona fide star. She scored 10 tries at the tournament with her fending power, long-striding speed and size. The ponytail express opted out of an equally bright future with the Gold Coast Suns in AFLW to pursue the world stage that is the differentiating appeal of sevens.
There was only so long that the sport could live off the memorable deeds of the history-making Olympic gold medallists from Rio in 2016.
That great story needed a refresher because six years on is a lifetime in modern, instant-satisfaction world of sport. The efforts of Charlotte Caslick, Ellia Green, Emilee Cherry, Sharni Williams, Emma Tonegato and Co stirred a revolution in 2016 by making rugby sevens Australia’s growing women’s sport.
We all know how much more competitive the footy space now is for women with AFLW and NRLW exploding in popularity on the domestic front to sit beside A-League Women.
It was wonderful to see Australia’s sevens empress Caslick and Williams still there in Birmingham to so obviously pass on their wisdom and wiles to the new generation. Superstar Caslick is an unbackable favourite to be World Rugby’s Women’s Sevens Player of the Year for a second time and a third Olympics beckons for her in Paris in 2024.
The baton change has been immensely important because the Aussies sevens girls did look like they were caught in a tricky transition at the Tokyo Olympics last year.
Did the team cling to some of the 2016 heroes too long? Were some of the new breed too inexperienced? In the end, the tears of a medal-less quarter-final exit to Fiji were the harsh correction the program needed.
The Aussie women have been a revelation this season with master coach Tim Walsh back in charge. Claiming the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series, with four tournament wins, was superb but the Comm Games gold will be more persuasive and more widely viewed by impressionable youngsters.
Best of all, the leap has been taken to beat the trendsetting Kiwis. The Aussies beat the New Zealanders after the full-time bell to win the Langford tournament in Canada that sealed the World Series crown in May.
Toppling the Kiwis again 17-12 in the semi-finals at the Commonwealth Games was really the pinnacle game in Birmingham.
Levi scored a hat-trick of tries, Ashby threw the sweetest of passes, Caslick showed her mastery of quick taps, super sub Demi Hayes made a try-making offload and Dom du Toit banged over a key conversion. Nathan, Caslick and 18-year-old Teagan Levi made the desperate tackles needed to finish the job when the Aussies were down to six players for the closing seconds.
Caslick was all polish to open the final with the long pass that put Nathan over for the first of her two tries. The 10-0 start became 17-0 when standout Ashby surged onto a pass to score.
There are players with rugby league and Aussie Rules flavours to their upbringing in this team. All have chosen rugby sevens for its professional program, the world travel and glittering highs like this on the world stage.
The most athletic of women do get a choice of switching between codes just as we have seen former Aussie Sevens star Tonegatoinstantly dominate in NRLW in the code where she first started.
This is the gold medal that rugby sevens needed to inspire fresh excitement in youngsters and more seasoned players to try a fast and fun form of footy.
Having the Ballymore redevelopment in Brisbane completed next year with a new National Rugby Training Centre is ideal timing. A vast gym, aquatic recovery and sauna, an auditorium for team meetings and specific facilities for women is exactly how women’s sport should have been catered for years ago.
The new home for women’s rugby and the Wallaroos can only make rugby for women even more appealing.