The 2020 World Rugby Sevens event would have been Australia’s probability to check the waters earlier than competing on the largest stage — the Tokyo Olympics.
- Australia will this week begin Olympic preparations with a six-match collection towards New Zealand
- The gamers are again collectively for the primary time since COVID cancelled the 2020 World Championships
- The workforce is bidding to win back-to-back Olympic gold medals after claiming victory in Rio
Nevertheless COVID-19 noticed the event axed and the Olympics postponed, offering little perception into the place every nation ranks in 2021.
“Groups have not performed in over 12 months, [so] it’s kind of unknown in the intervening time,” 2016 gold medallist Evania Pelite stated.
“We aren’t fairly certain what different groups are doing and no-one is aware of what we have been doing.”
The reigning 2016 Rio Olympic champions, Australia, have not performed towards an worldwide competitor in almost 500 days, and like many different international locations are at nighttime on the place they stand.
Might a darkish horse find yourself on the rostrum?
“5 years in the past there have been solely a few international locations that had been on the highest of the ladies’s recreation, and now we’ve groups coming via the ranks and which have improved a lot,” Pelite stated.
Australia set on bringing one other gold dwelling
Whereas coronavirus and the worldwide development of the sport might have levelled the enjoying area, the Aussies are nonetheless set on defending their title.
“That is clearly the objective — I might like to go and win the primary back-to-back gold medals for Australia,” Pelite stated.
That is why Australia’s six-match collection in New Zealand towards their greatest rivals — the Black Ferns Sevens — this week has a lot using on it.
“This preparation goes to be large,” co-captain Sharni Williams stated.
“It will give us some continuity by way of gamers, combos and alternatives as effectively, and it is most likely going to present Johnny [coach John Manenti] a little bit of a headache, however that is what we would like.”
Australia will play two matches a day over three days, in a format designed to imitate Tokyo’s schedule.
After such a drought, Williams is determined to get again on the sector.
“We’re footy gamers. We’re paid to play footy, and we’ve been coaching, coaching, coaching, however there’s nothing higher than to get on the market, boot up and play the sport that you just love,” she stated.
With worldwide borders closed, the gamers have needed to discover different avenues to compete.
“It has been fairly tough, particularly at the start,” Olympic hopeful Madison Ashby stated.
“All the women went to Queensland and half of us had been in NSW attempting to do one-on-one zoom calls, then all of us obtained separated into uni groups.”
Ashby watched the Rio Olympics when she was 15 years outdated and was enticed to the code by the prospect of Olympic glory.
“Being on the pinnacle of ladies’s sport, it is a dream come true,” Ashby stated.
The 20-year-old is a part of the following era of feminine athletes benefiting from pathways that did not exist just some years in the past.
“I grew up enjoying league. As soon as that barrier stopped ladies enjoying with boys from 12 years outdated, I transitioned over to sevens,” Ashby stated.
Now she’s decided to go all the way in which once more.
“It is a model new workforce now,” she stated.
“Everybody’s very humble going into this event.
“All of the older ladies had nice experiences, so are actually pushing us to try to do our greatest as a result of all of us have one objective — gold.”
The Australians are beneath no phantasm title defence might be a straightforward feat.
“We have New Zealand, in fact they’re primary on this planet. USA might be an excellent one, identical with Canada and France, so all of it is dependent upon the day,” Ashby stated.
COVID considerations linger as Tokyo looms
Whereas the workforce is worked up for the Olympics, they nonetheless have reservations in regards to the dangers in 2021.
“There’s a lot unknown. That is the exhausting half, there’s not a variety of info on the market,” Wiliams stated.
“There are a variety of issues that we will not management, so after we recover from there we’re actually simply going to need to take care of one another and take care of our nation as effectively after we come again.”
Some athletes are anxious in regards to the video games — however being vaccinated provides them some reduction.
“On the finish of the day it is nonetheless going to be behind our minds, we simply need to cope with what’s being dealt,” Pelite stated.
“It’ll be extraordinarily completely different [to Rio]. It’ll really feel prefer it used to after we did not have a variety of crowds watching us — with out followers in stands we’re actually going to need to depend on one another.”
Getting ready for her first Olympics, Ashby says it is a disgrace the workforce will not have the supporters like in 2016.
“It’s fairly disappointing not sharing that have with family and friends however we’re going there for a job,” she stated.
“We have mentally ready for this so we might be switched on and will not let it trouble us in any respect.”
The ladies’s pool spherical matches begin on July 29 at Tokyo Stadium, with the ultimate scheduled for July 31.