Comment: The day Australian Rugby changed forever

By Pete Fairbairn, 09.08.16

Pete Fairbairn provides his thoughts on the future for the Australian Women's Rugby Sevens team after they won the Gold Medal final in Rio, and finds similarities between the individuals and some of Australia's greatest ever Olympians...

Nothing quite captures Australianism like the winning of a Gold medal at the Olympic Games; have one of those draped over your neck and you’ll forever hold a special place in the collective hearts of all Australians.

Tuesday August 9th will forever go down as a momentous occasion in Australian Rugby history, as the Australian Women’s Rugby Sevens side added the inaugural Olympic Gold to the World Championship they sealed back in May and in doing so permanently etched their names into the history books.

Click here to read the press release, as RUPA congratulates Australia's first ever Rugby Gold medallists!

For those of us permanently working inside the game, the potential of Women’s Rugby Sevens has always been plain to see.

However, outside of our ‘epicentre’ the rest of the world is cottoning on to the enormous potential of this sport and a potential giant has been awakened from its’ slumber.

These girls, who left Australia as World Champions but perhaps not yet known to mainstream Australia will certainly return to a different reception; they’re now Olympic Champions, and deserve to be spoken about in the same breath as the other Australian female Olympic stars who’ve preceded them.

Because you see while Natalie Cook and Kerri Pottharst made a formidable duo in Sydney as they won Beach Volleyball Gold, Rugby Sevens Co-Captains Shannon Parry and Sharni Williams led with spirit and vigour, mixed up with a giant dose of ‘follow me’ as their performances did the talking.

The team’s immediate gold medal winning predecessor in trap shooter Catherine Skinner, so ice-cool under pressure? Chloe Dalton replicated that throughout all six matches of the tournament.

Click here to see our Facebook gallery with all of the best photos from the three days of competition in Rio.

Sally Pearson, the golden girl all Australians watching the Olympics from the comfort of their lounge room in the middle of the night felt like they knew and were therefore just desperate to see succeed, whilst also never really doubting she would? Step up Emma Tonegato.

The ever smiling two-time Gold medallist (2004 and 2012) Anna Meares, gutsy as anything to return from a broken neck in 2008? Gemma Etheridge certainly comes to mind, both for the big grin and her miraculous recovery from a knee reconstruction to somehow make it to these Games; like Meares, nothing was stopping her!

Leisel Jones, with medals at three straight Olympic Games? Evania Pelite has the time on her side to get there.

Chantelle Newberry, a mum to two-year old Jet when she won Gold in the 10m Platform in Athens in 2004? Nicole Beck certainly tells a similar tale as mum of three-year old Sophie, present in Rio to share in the moment.

Like Sydney 2000 Gold medal winning sailors Jenny Armstrong (Dunedin) and Belinda Stowell (Harare), who won the Women's 470 event, Amy Turner wasn't born in Australia. Hailing from Tokoroa, New Zealand, Turner didn't move here until she was 20, however the 'veteran' of the team has sacrificed a career in Queensland's mines to join the central program in Sydney and is just as Australian as each of the other girls who created history today.

Then there's ‘don’t get in my way’ determination of Sydney 2000 Taekwondo Gold medallist Lauren Burns; well Charlotte Caslick has it in spades. For staying power, Alicia Quirk’s impressive performance in playing in every minute of the competition surely sees plenty of parallels with triathlon Gold medallist Emma Snowsill.

Who could forget Petria Thomas winning three Gold medals at the 2004 Olympic Games to go with her five other Olympic medals, all done after overcoming repeated shoulder injuries which required three reconstructions and lengthy periods of rehabilitation? Whilst we’re not suggesting her injury was as serious, Emilee Cherry’s recovery both mentally and physically from a hamstring scare just days before the Games evokes a similar level of respect, especially when coupled with how fearlessly she strode towards the tryline throughout the tournament despite the obvious risk of re-injuring herself in the process.

Scorer of three tries in Rio, Ellia Green’s transformation from sprinter to Rugby Sevens player is well chronicled and there are definite similarities with the switch Nova Peris made from hockey to athletics. Peris won Olympic Gold as a Hockeyroo in Atlanta (1996), and while she didn’t win Olympic Gold as a sprinter in Sydney she did win Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur in her second sporting pursuit. Who’s to say that Ellia couldn’t win Commonwealth Games Gold in 2018 on the Gold Coast, in either Rugby Sevens or indeed if she returned to athletics? You’d be brave to bet against it!

And finally, there’s the simple fact that not everybody can be out there on the field, or indeed in the Olympic team. In 2016, Madison Wilson swum in preliminary heats in the 4x100m freestyle relay but wasn’t selected for the (eventual Gold medal winning) final four, a fate shared by Yolane Kukla, Lisbeth Trickett and Emily Seebohm in the same (victorious) event four years previously.

Switch to the 4x100m medley from Beijing in (2008) with Tarnee White, Shayne Reese and Felicity Galvez missing out on the final swim, while Jessicah Schipper swam heats only for the victorious 2004 medley team before taking her place in the final four years later.

The moral of the story as we take this tour through Australia’s Olympic wonderful history? Do not underestimate the influence that travelling reserves Dominique du Toit and Brooke Walker had on this result, nor fellow contracted players Brooke Anderson, Shenae Ciesiolka, Georgie Freidrichs, Demi Hayes, Mahalia Murphy, Tiana Penitani, Taleena Simon and Laura Waldie; Champions, the lot of them.

We could go on forever, but the reality is that this afternoon throughout the country the Australian Women’s Rugby Sevens team are the talk of the town.

Over water coolers, new converts are telling the already-converted rusted-on diehards, who’ve been on board for quite some time, that they now understand. That these girls pass with precision, tackle with tenacity, hustle with pure desperation and represent their country with enormous pride.

There are young girls and boys sitting in classrooms desperate for the day’s school lessons to finish so that they can run outside and emulate their heroes; there are young women throughout the country who now realise that this is the game for them.
Rugby has changed forever in this country today as these girls become household names. They join an exclusive Club that features, among the afore-mentioned Olympic stars, the late Marjorie Jackson, Dawn Fraser, Shane Gould and of course the late trailblazer Shirley Strickland.

That’s pretty damn good company, and we’re all thrilled for them.

Pete Fairbairn
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