There’s a strong case for Australia’s women’s sevens as the dominant force in rugby today. 

Think about it. If you had to stick your hard-earned pocket money on a particular team’s campaign, theirs would leave you most confident of stashing something back in the piggy bank. 

Over in 15s, no single domestic result is as set in stone, and the test landscape is no easier to decipher: the men in a post-Rugby World Cup hinterland, and the Women’s Six Nations poised on the knife edge of a Bleues versus Roses showdown in Bordeaux. Back in Seven-a-Side-Land, Los Pumas Sevens have seemed irresistible at times, but there are such heavyweights nipping at their heels that their position at the top of the men’s standings feels precarious. 

Meanwhile, Tim Walsh’s squad have stepped and stormed their way so captivatingly out of the blocks that there’s clear daylight between them and the chasing pack. They’re not just undefeated – they strolled into the last four of the HSBC SVNS 2024 tournaments in Dubai and Cape Town, and then weathered storms in both finals to make it back-to-back triumphs. 

Nothing in sport is ever certain, but Caslick and co have thrown down an arresting gauntlet, and then scorched away – with both a series pot lift and a second Olympic gold in their crosshairs.

Chris Dry, who made the men's HSBC Dream Team in 2017, believes Olympic glory in Rio was the defining moment in Australian women’s sevens ascent. “They’d shown glimpses of what they could do, but definitely weren’t favourites that year – New Zealand were the ones to watch," he says.

"But they went and won it, and that’s proven transformative. Those sorts of wins can lay a foundation, confidence-wise, and they’ve carried that through to the present day.”

Tokyo Games drift

“It had a huge effect on the game in Australia,” Emily Scarratt, Team GB’s captain in Rio, adds. Charlotte Caslick and Sharni Smale experienced the elation of proving citius, altius, and fortius in 2016, but it was "the frustration and heartbreak" of finishing fifth in Tokyo that could have the greatest bearing on their 2024. 

“They were imperious at points in 2021, but just couldn’t sustain it,” Scarratt says. “They’ll have learned from it, and it’s a massive motivator.”

Could the Tokyo nightmare happen again? “You have to wonder if other teams are still building this season, while they’re already hitting their stride. Can they, or anyone, maintain levels like those? On the other hand, they manage consistency better than anybody. 

“These tournaments are brutal: one defeat is all it takes for a campaign to come crashing down, but that’s where Australia are in such a strong position: they’ve developed the habit of not losing, and will relish the challenge of keeping their foot on the throat right up until the big ones in Madrid and Paris.”

Commentator Sean Moloney, whose insights, quips, and roars have accompanied so many great sevens moments, is also quick to underline the sport’s ruthless nature. “Just look at the start of last season: they were incredible, but then got smacked in the rain in Cape Town by the Black Ferns, and whacked again by France in the Sydney quarters," he says.

"Those slips cost them the series, so let’s see how they go in Perth before we liken them to the 2016 heroes.”

Two events contested. Two events won. A purple patch to maintain all the way to this summer’s medal ceremonies. But what makes Australia so good?

Perfect balance

For Dry, it’s their completeness. “They set standards brilliantly: the way they pass, catch, and look after the ball is exceptional. They really can score from anywhere. Some teams play with structure, some teams rely on those firecrackers who can just break. Australia have both, and pair those with an amazing defence and ferocious hard work. I genuinely think they could give some men’s teams a run for their money…"

Scarratt highlights the composition of their table-topping squad. “There’s a really nice balance to it: superstars, but also individuals who thoroughly understand their role. Sharni does the dog work, Charlotte is – somehow – still playing ridiculously good rugby, Bienne [Terita] and Faith [Nathan] are out-and-out athletes, and then Teagan [Levi] has come on leaps and bounds. 

“It’s very obvious to look for a USP and just say ‘Maddi Levi’, but she’s only able to do what she does because of those around her. She’d be an unbelievable athlete in any environment, but she can wreak havoc within that system.”

Sometimes you can sit back and let their rugby be the superlative

While everyone, former circuit flyers included, gazes on admiringly as beribboned ponytails swish and records tumble, some people have work to do. What’re they like to commentate on?

“A dream,” Moloney responds in a heartbeat. “You’re collaborating with the best in the business. I reckon I could call one of their games without numbers on their backs, because they each have such unique flair.

“It can be tricky, though, because you’ve got to keep the energy up, even when they’re utterly dominating the scoreboard. In Dubai, for example, they produced a record win against Japan – and, with the game home and hosed, Dom Du Toit fired off a 30-metre ball, at full pace, which was perfectly weighted. At that moment, I just went, ‘They don’t get any better than that, kids! That’s how you do it!’. No emotion – just awe. 

“Sometimes you can sit back and let their rugby be the superlative.”

Unstoppable force

Two Olympians and a leading voice: the only thing missing is hard data, and no one is better placed to provide that than Kate Lorimer, HSBC SVNS 2024’s resident statistician. Do the numbers add up? Are there threats right across this gold-clad squad?

Simply: yes. Maddison Levi has 21 tries to her name already, and human cannonball Nathan 13, but nine of the other 11 have crossed at least once. As a collective, their 67 tries are the most of any team after the first two rounds of a SVNS series.

What about defence? Why are these women so hard to beat? The stats guru reaches back into her box of tricks… They fly from the traps like the sprinters they are, and often start with a defensive intensity which proves impenetrable. They’ve bagelled their opponents in the first halves of eight of their 12 matches this season, due in part to their peerless tackling. No side makes more hits per match, nor is as accurate: they’re completing a competition-high 82 per cent of their efforts.

They’ve also improved some key metrics. “They treasure possession,” Lorimer explains. They averaged seven errors a game in 2023 (the fourth lowest tally), but have whittled that down to an unrivalled 4.9 this year. 

Even mathematical magicians deal in emotion, sometimes. “I think their win in the Dubai final over the Black Ferns went a long way to building their confidence,” she muses. “Last season, they lost three of those four showdowns – in Cape Town, Vancouver, and Hong Kong – but they’ve shored up vulnerable areas."

Immovable objects

Against the Kiwis last year, Australia averaged three errors and three penalties per match. They required 7.5 carries for each line break they achieved, and scored on 88 per cent of their visits to their opponents’ 22.

In Dubai? Just two errors, not a single penalty, and their work ball-in-hand was lethal: they scythed past black jerseys once in every five carries. Most decisively, they were flawless in the red zone, converting each and every entry into points. The inexorable Queens of the Desert. 

Their raw output and athletic performance is a sight to behold, but Dry notes they’re taking care of those all-important top two inches, too. 

“It’s clear they’re well coached, but they’re also having a lot of fun,” the 373-time Blitzbok observes. “They want to go to work, and they’re battlers: hugely impressive when the odds are against them. 

Simple formula

“Look at what they did against France in Cape Town: winning with six on the field takes immense maturity, and the ability to remain gelled under extreme pressure. They’re front-runners, on and off the field: getting the job done, and then enjoying it afterwards!”

It’s a simple formula, Scarratt reckons: “They’re next-level talented, and operating within a programme which supports how massively impressive they are. Look at their facilities, and how ‘on it’ the whole set-up is. Place that calibre of athlete into it, and it all makes sense.”

Australia are Rugby World Cup Sevens and Commonwealth champions, and haven’t skipped a beat this year, as they look to make it a quartet of major titles. Perth next, before adoring home fans, and then more sun and podiums to chase en route to 2024’s scintillating summer of sevens. 

We’ve said it already: nothing is guaranteed in sport – that’s why we love it – but, as early markers go, Australia’s is pretty compelling…

By Claire Thomas