Women’s rugby gets another big kick forward

It is being seen as a new pathway for emerging talent to try to follow in the footsteps of Australia’s gold-medal-winning Rio Olympic side.

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Last weekend, the Australian women’s Commonwealth Youth Games Rugby Sevens team beat Canada in the final in the Bahamas to claim gold.

It is yet another sign that women’s rugby in Australia is not just growing, but raising the expectations, with each passing year.

The latest announcement gives those who played in the Bahamas, such as 18-year-old Page McGregor, the chance to progress from the youth ranks to the senior ranks.

She is now aiming to go well in next month’s eight-team university tournament and maybe earn a spot at next year’s Commonwealth Games.

“That’s why I’m excited to play this Uni Games with some of the girls, because Chole Dalton and Dom Du Toit are in our team, so it will be really good to play with them to show that we have an opportunity to make the Commonwealth Games next year.”

The university teams have each been sprinkled with some of the elite Olympic gold-medal squad to help nurture new talent.

Australian coach Tim Walsh says that was part of the plan for the inaugural competition.

“The best way to grow the game and to share and collaborate that information is to disperse it and, making sure that this competition is going to be at that elite level, have the elite players in there. And when you’ve got that experience and that exposure, and them learning off the next generation and the coaches as well, learning off them, I think it’s a no-brainer.”

Four tournaments will be held over five weeks starting in late August, and the Australian Rugby Union is already thinking about expanding the eight-university concept.

The sport’s chief executive, Bill Pulver, says, if Rugby Union does not attract and secure new players, another sport will.

“There is a ‘land grab’ for elite female talent, every sport, whether it’s cricket, soccer, Rugby League, AFL or Rugby Union. We’re all eager to see the percentage of women participating in the game grow. I’m pretty certain it’s going to expand. We’ve already got four or five universities who want to join this competition next year, so it will get bigger.”

The ripples from the Olympic success in Rio seem to be continuing to flow.

New South Wales Sevens coach Nathan McMahon will be in charge of the Macquarie University Rays in the competition.

He says the Olympic team and coach Tim Walsh deserve the highest praise for winning gold.

“It’s a credit to Tim and those amazing 12 girls that went over to Rio, what they’ve done for this sport. We wouldn’t be standing here without what they achieved in Rio. It’s quite scary where this sport can go, and I’m very fortunate to be a part of it.”