Australia’s medal-hunting women’s sevens squad has been given a huge boost for the Tokyo Olympics with the green light for a tune-up series against New Zealand.
Only the recent trans-Tasman travel bubble has made the series possible and women’s sevens coach John Manenti could not be happier.
The 2016 Rio Olympics gold medallists will tackle the Tokyo Olympics favourites in Auckland over six games on May 21-23.
The high-quality matches under near-tournament conditions will build on the match sharpness gained by players through the Aon University Sevens series.
Twelve players from the national sevens squad will play across the six teams involved on Saturday and Sunday in the latest Aon tournament at Forshaw Rugby Park, in Sydney’s south.
“The NZ series is great news. We’ll play two games a day for three days to replicate the Olympic format,” Manenti said.
“We probably had four changes of dates with the NZ series but we are all locked in now.
“We’re grateful. We’ve been forced to be quite adaptable over the past year and we know whatever situation we’ve been in some Olympic sevens teams like Team GB have struggled to get camps together at all.
“We are getting closer to having our whole squad in training. Ellia Green and Chloe Dalton are both coming back from injury and Auckland is in range for them.
“We’ll take 15-to-18 girls to Auckland because we all need to compete under pressure at international level again. It’s ideal with the Olympics coming up (in July-August).”
Manenti said he was delighted with the Aon University Sevens series providing valuable playing time for his squad.
“We’ve had three rounds of internal trials but when we line up against each other we instantly know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and the plays,” Manenti said.
“The Sydney Sevens in February last year was the last international tournament we played so to have girls playing the Aon series against different players has been a real benefit.
“For example, Demi Hayes and Lily Dick had their injury problems last year. With consistent training blocks behind them now, it’s really pleasing to see them play some positive rugby in the Aon series.”
The pair will make Queensland’s Griffith University one of the teams to beat at Forshaw Park.
Faith Nathan’s speed, footwork and try hunger were a standout feature at the recent Newcastle tournament and she’ll be back playing for the University of Newcastle this weekend.
Equally, Sariah Paki’s physical presence for an emerging youngster was impressive and she’ll get the chance to keep showing it for the University of Technology, Sydney. While making the squad for the Olympics may be the huge focus of every player, Manenti said there was also an important bigger picture in play.
“Bringing through the next generation of girls is always a big part of our program,” Manenti said.
“The Olympics are big but it’s a full calendar of great opportunities coming up because next year we have the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham and a Rugby World Cup Sevens in Cape Town,”
2021 Aon University Sevens (Final Round 1)
Saturday-Sunday at Forshaw Park, Sylvania Waters (Sydney)
University of Queensland: Sharni Williams and Georgia Hannaway
Bond University: Shannon Parry and Vani Pelite
Griffith University: Demi Hayes and Lily Dick
University of Newcastle: Faith Nathan and Madison Higgins-Ashby
University of Technology, Sydney: Sariah Paki and Bienne Terita
Sydney University: Cassie Staples and Tia Hinds
Saturday: 9:40am-2:20pm (9 games)
Sunday: 9:40am-3pm (7 games)