It’s very hard to find balance doing an annual review of an Olympic year, with so much emotionally invested in the group of ladies who won gold. The Aussie 7s ladies provided the high point for many people in 2016. It wasn’t just winning gold that was important, it was the opportunity to showcase the women’s game to a world wide audience. They did it in style & rugby 7s knocked the NFL off top spot in social media ‘traffic’ in the USA.
Beth Newman writing for rugby.com.au summed up the impact of the Aussie 7s girls nicely when describing their Olympic performance as ‘A contrast of femininity and strength that these women, and so many of their counterparts, possess, it became a symbol for female athletes across the world as they continue to shatter stereotypes and perceptions and pave the way for today’s young girls to follow.’
Coming back to the gold medal game itself, I’ve been asked more than a few times about when I knew the Aussie 7s girls had won the gold. Part of me has always wanted to answer ‘when they finished third in Canada with Charlotte, Quirky, Emma, Ellia & Sharni back in Australia’, but I know that’s both speculation and not the answer people are looking for.
The real answer is very easy; I embraced my wife & quietly said ‘your daughter is winning a gold medal’. It was with 1 minute 30 seconds to go in the gold medal match, Kayla Macalister had just scored for New Zealand, but Tyla Nathan-Wong missed a relatively easy conversion attempt, leaving the score 24-10 to Australia. That meant that New Zealand needed 3 tries in 90 seconds to win. It was at that point I knew that not even Woodman & Macalister could produce such a miracle finish, especially with Emilee Cherry leading an Aussie defensive effort that had gone to another level. Many say the game was in the bag when Charlotte scored with 3.30 to go, but for me, 3 minutes is plenty of time for Woodman & Macalister to bridge a 19 point gap.
In a year of the ultimate highlight, Tribe7s still managed to bring smiles to a lot of faces. Our year normally starts at Hottest 7s in the World. We’ve been lucky enough to field some outstanding teams in this tournament. Our 2016 women’s team was one of our best, with Tribe7s originals, Charlotte Caslick & Vani Pelite being released by Aussie 7s to play with us for the first time together since they started the Tribe7s adventure. They lead the girls to a tournament win, beating a talented young Queensland team in the final and notched up a for & against record of 297-0 over the 2 days.
At the same tournament our men began what is now a pretty intense rivalry with the Fijian powerhouse Tabadamu. We were the only team to really stretch them, but lost a tight pool game and then the semi-final to the eventual champions. The rivalry continued at Noosa in October, but they again pipped us in a tight pool match. An unfavorable draw saw, arguably, the 4 best teams in the tournament on one side of the draw. Tabadamu, Newtown (another Fijian team), Sunnybank & Tribe7s. A controversial loss to Newtown relegated us to the Plate competition, which we won comfortably. Even though the lads deserved better, it was a break-through tournament for our men playing in elite company.
For the first time we took a men’s team to France for a 2 tournament tour along with our ladies. In another season highlight, both teams won in Paris at Centrale 7s, a tournament our ladies won in 2014. Howard Hinton 7s a week later was a much tougher challenge with both teams facing international opponents preparing for the Olympic repercharge event. A brutal men’s draw saw us face Germany & USA Academy. 2 narrow losses relegated us to the Bowl competition that the lads won against France Development. Germany & USA both went on to the semi-finals and Germany claimed the Cup. Even though the ladies finished 4th, our win against China in that tournament was one of the best performances by a Tribe7s team against a national side. Our thanks goes to the student organisers of Centrale 7s and to Pascal Sassi & Nico Chambras for their support in helping us get to Howard Hinton 7s.
Our association with junior women grew in 2016, partnering with Wests Bulldogs to field teams in BJRU competitions. We took a team of under 18s to New Caledonia for their first taste of international touring, thanks to Vincent Brehonnet, the New Caledonia Rugby Federation & the French Rugby Federation. We seem to be developing a French connection. The girls won the tournament, beating a quality New Zealand team in a pulsating final. In October they followed that up with an impressive tournament win at Noosa 7s.
Topping off the most memorable year of rugby 7s, November saw us provide plenty of participants in the National Championships where the senior & junior women & senior men from Queensland won the main silverware.
In December we fielded teams in the International Invitational Women & Men tournaments at Dubai 7s. The women lost a close match to Wales in the semi-final before beating Kenya in the bronze medal match. The men were very unlucky to also finish with a bronze medal, having beaten England Academy & France Development in their pool, only to lose a coin toss to decide top seeding heading into the quarter-final. A tough quarter-final win over Germany saw the lads matched up against South Africa Academy in the semi-final in a game that turned on a couple of 50/50 calls. England went on to beat South Africa in the gold medal match & our lads beat Ireland to the bronze.
Financial support from Locality Planning Energy (LPE) directly funded our teams that participated in the Hottest 7s in the World, the French tour & the New Caledonia tour. LPE share our aim to make playing rugby 7s affordable and without their contribution, international playing opportunities would be out of reach for many players. LPE will be providing us with support again and keep an eye out for their wider involvement in women’s rugby 7s in 2017.
At Dubai 7s we were fortunate to have the support of Palazzo Versace Dubai, Place Community Managers, Emril Facility Management, Tuff Tapes & back up from Middle East Touch. Participating at Dubai 7s is a very expensive exercise and with our meager resources, embarking on such a trip would have been impossible without this support. In addition to giving our players a wonderful opportunity on the field, Palazzo Versace Dubai also provided an unforgettable lifestyle experience where our players were treated to world-class hospitality.
As our ‘family’ grows, it’s dangerous to dish out ‘thank yous’ in fear of missing someone. The Bennetts family remains at top of the list – Felicity continues to steer the ship, ably supported by her off-sider Courtney and Linda keeps our players healthy. The unbilled hours from Body Perceptions are staggering. Felicity has a wider support group of awesome women who contribute and support because they love the game.
Coaches Cassidy Holland & Maia Tui-Davidson devote countless hours to our players. They set standards that others are trying to match and it was very satisfying to see their contribution to grass-roots rugby 7s rewarded with Queensland coaching appointments in 2016. Sione Fukofuka & Nathan McMahon straddle between their commitments to the ‘establishment’ & us (not to mention straddling state borders) to give, without question, when we need it. We are in a privileged position to be supported by such good people.
Lachlan Parkinson, Kim Schuck, Scott Bowen, Tim Walsh, Luca Luisi & Andy Friend provide us with valuable counsel, advice & encouragement. Jo Staples & the Wests Bulldogs provide invaluable behind the scenes help.
Thanks to our players, we do this for them & they never let us down.
But the biggest thanks this year goes to the parents of the new legion of young women that have worn our jersey for the first time in 2016. In the brave new world of women’s sport ushered in by the Aussie 7s girls in August, it’s humbling that parents have shown faith in us as they & their daughters take their first steps in this sport where perception & stereotypes are being shattered.
Now it’s time to get stuck in to 2017.