There have been plenty of memorable moments at the Rio Olympic Games, but you don’t have to be a rugby supporter to have been swept up in the euphoria of the Australian women’s sevens team picking up a gold medal.
I think that win has done as much for Australian rugby as the World Cup wins of 1991 and 1999. I say this not as an advocate for rugby in Australia, but as a father of daughters.
The way they planned to get to that end goal took courage, determination, self belief, a lot of hard work and a dream; a dream that they could be the best in the world.
They had been building for gold for some time and the looks on their faces when their medals were presented were priceless; a real sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.
It has certainly opened up an avenue where girls can play a game that is competitive, fast, skilful, tactical and physical, an all-round package that has caught the imagination of women.
The influence has reached my family, too. One of my daughters, full of enthusiasm, this week presented me with a permission slip to sign to allow her to play in a sevens gala day. The Burke family engages in various sporting activities and this will be just another one to add to the repertoire.
An old teammate’s daughter is also playing, and she just loves the experience, playing hard but fair.
So after a dour year of Super Rugby for Australian teams, the ARU has been handed an amazing opportunity to grow the game so a new generation can sink their teeth into an incredibly dynamic sport.
I have seen in recent weeks new programs for women’s sevens and other women’s competitions, and rightly so.
The Rio gold medal must be capitalised on with the structures that are in place in the elite sevens program adapted to filter down through the ranks.
Remember, these girls were chosen from a range of sports, so you don’t have to come from a rugby background. Yes, there were women already in the rugby family, but the net was cast wide to attract track athletes, touch football players, rugby league players and women with a drive to be the best.
Two years ago, Scott Bowen, who is the manager of the sevens set-up, sent me a text asking if I could come down and play a game against the girls. The quick reply was “yes”. I then had to call back and ask if it would be full contact. He laughed and said no, just two-handed grab. I was in.
I must admit, I didn’t know what to expect, but I soon found myself blowing hard through the warm-up, to the point where I nearly had to step away and offload my lunch.
The warm-up was intense, but that was nothing compared to the speed of their training: effort after effort, stressing themselves under fatigue. The skills from then to now have been transformed under the guise of Tim Walsh.
In February our Aussie women played against Ireland in three friendlies during the Sydney Sevens tournament and the fans were overwhelming impressed by how good our team was.
When February rolls around in 2017, there has been chat that the women will have a sevens event that runs concurrently with a men’s tournament in Sydney, which would be another masterstroke to expose the game locally and globally. If that comes to fruition, the support will be enormous for our women.
Can you remember the old catch-cry Australian rugby used way back? “What do you want to be, a Walla Wallaby.” Young boys clutching their footies, pleading with their fathers to go to the park to emulate their heroes.
Well I think that could be changed to: “What do you want to be, an Australian women’s sevens rugby player”.
The rhyming needs a bit of work, but you know where I am coming from.