Now, Australia’s Olympic champion women’s team will go toe-to-toe against one another as they prepare to defend their title early next month.
Having turned down an invitation to warm-up for the tournament by playing a series of exhibition matches against arch-rival New Zealand and Canada across the Tasman, it was supposed to be business as usual on the training paddock for the reigning World Series champions two weeks out from their home tournament.
But with regulars Charlotte Caslick, Emilee Cherry and Demi Hayes missing due to injury, co-captain Shannon Parry and Emma Tonegato hoping to prove their fitness and a number of hungry youngsters chomping at the bit for an opportunity, coach John Manenti has taken the unusual step of pitting his team against one another.
The 20-player squad will play two matches against one another in Sydney on Friday afternoon, as Manenti seeks to separate the women from the girls in temperatures expected to hit the 40 degrees Celsius mark.
“We probably wouldn’t have played the internal trial normally,” Manenti told reporters in Sydney on Monday.
“But given a couple of girls being out and a few girls coming back, and a few girls played in the (Dubai) tournament who put their hands up, we’ve genuinely (got some) tough decisions to make, and I think the best way to work out who wants it most is pit them against each other and see how they go.”
Get every stop on the World Rugby HSBC Sevens Series LIVE into your living room. SIGN UP NOW!
New Australian Women’s sevens head coach John Manenti isn’t afraid of people tasked with leading the Olympic Champions in the post-Tim Walsh era.Source: Getty Images
It’s a risky move given the star power already sitting on the sidelines, but one worth the risk according to the Australian coach.
“Of course, there’s risk every time you play, every time we go hard against each other,” Manenti said.
“If you saw us train last Wednesday at training, it was harder than any game we’ve played contact wise, so you’re always going to run that risk when you do it.”
And for a squad that’s struggled for consistency since capturing the country’s attention by winning gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics, Manenti is hoping that the internal trial serves to show who wants to be in the 12-player squad.
“I love it (the competition for places). I think it’s unreal. It’s one thing that we haven’t had whether it be because of injury or just that top group were so far ahead of everyone else,” Manenti said.
“I think it’s a really important thing to have a squad of people competing for positions and there’s very few girls that can say they’re out-and-out guaranteed to be there, and that’s because we have competition coming through.
“We’ve got 20 girls training at the moment, which is the most we’ve ever had fit, well, ready to have a crack and that’s a great thing for the program now, but also longevity-wise it means we’re doing some good things around our pathways and development pathways.”
Former Australian sevens coach Tim Walsh celebrates after winning the Sydney Sevens in 2018.Source: AFP
For Manenti, too, next month’s Sydney Sevens is an opportunity to make a statement of his own.
It was in the lead-up to the corresponding fixture last year that long-serving coach Tim Walsh announced that he was stepping down following the Commonwealth Games.
The Olympic champions responded by rebounding from their shock semi-final exit one year earlier by winning their maiden Sydney Sevens without conceding a point and in doing so took a giant step to sealing their World Series championship, too.
Since then, however, with Manenti taking over as head coach, the women’s sevens team managed the bronze medal after a shock loss to France in the semi-finals, and finished a disappointing fifth and third in the opening two tournaments of this season’s World Series.
While admitting that they had currently dropped behind New Zealand for the title of the world’s best team, Manenti said he had no qualms of being the person entrusted to lead the team forward in the post-Walsh era.
“It’s not about me,” Manenti said.
“It’s about the girls and getting the best out of them.
“If I never get out of Tim’s shadow, it doesn’t bother me as long as the team’s winning and successful.
“It’s all about the girls and if I can keep giving them opportunities to perform at this level, and potentially getting to Tokyo (the 2020 Olympic hosts) that’s my job.”