Road to Nanjing via Moscow

28 June 2013

RUGBY SEVENS: Australia’s participation in rugby sevens at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games is on the line this weekend at the Rugby Sevens World Cup in Moscow, Russia.

It is a tough situation for the Australian men and women, who must finish as the top Oceania nation in their tournament to secure a berth for their respective youth teams in Nanjing, China next year. With Fiji, Samoa and favourites New Zealand among the competition, the race to Nanjing is set to thrill.

The International Olympic Committee voted rugby sevens onto the Rio 2016 Olympic program in 2009. Not only does Nanjing represent the opportunity to vie for the first Youth Olympic sevens medals, the young players competing could also become the stars of the 2016 Olympic sevens team.

“The Youth Olympic Games are a stepping stone for our young athletes to go on to represent Australia at a senior level,” Australian Rugby Union Communications Manager Roza Bacelas said.

A berth at the Youth Olympic Games next year will provide athletes will invaluable exposure to competing in an Olympic environment. Athletes will experience a multisport event competition, drug testing, the demands of the media and living in an Olympic Village with thousands of people from all over the world.

The Australian Olympic Committee want to send both a boys and girls rugby sevens team to the Youth Games.

“The boys continue to develop in a training program and get exposure to the senior squad,” Bacelas said. 

“It is important to note that our senior squad is a very young team and by the time they get to Rio several players will only be 22 or 23 with four years’ experience of international competition.”

The girls team are training as part of a development squad which feeds the senior national squad. Some of these players have been included straight into the senior program attending camps and training with the Australian team. 

The inclusion of rugby sevens in the Olympic program has had a significant impact on the sport, internationally and domestically, both in terms of participants and spectators.

“The opportunity to not only represent Australia, but do so at the greatest sporting event in the world, has been the catalyst for the reinvigoration of Sevens,” Bacelas said.

As a result and with great speed, the ARU has developed a number of pathways for young athletes at a social and representative level.

“Schoolgirl and schoolboy competitions, club days and festivals all help talent scouts and coaches view and identify players,” Bacelas said.

“Close ties with Touch Football Australia and Oztag also enables athletes to try their hand at the pathway without leaving their sport and this has been particularly successful for our youth and senior women’s teams.”

Many of the women’s representative sevens players have also come from the sports of athletics, rugby league and AFL.

The 2013 Australian Youth Olympic Festival (AYOF) in Sydney has also helped raise the profile of the sport and seen an increase of interest from non-rugby athletes.

“The level of talent that the tournament showcased was outstanding and there are a significant number of players from the AYOF squad who have gone on to represent Australia at a senior level,” Bacelas said.

Tiana Penitani and Charlotte Caslick both wore the green and gold at the AYOF and are expected to make the journey all the way to Rio. At 17 years and 163 days old, when the tournament kicks off, Penitani will be Australia's youngest-ever representative of either a 15s or Sevens Rugby World Cup.

The Rugby Sevens World Cup tournament runs 28-30 June at Moscow’s Big Sports Arena in the Luzhniki Olympic Complex.

Frances Cordaro

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