Tim Walsh knows what it takes to win an Olympic gold medal, but as the days tick down until the start of Tokyo 2020 he insists his sole focus is on making sure Australia return from Japan without any regrets.
COVID-19 protocols in Australia mean that the men’s and women’s squads will be required to quarantine for 14 days once they arrive home from next month’s Olympic Games.
And Walsh, who guided the country’s women onto the top step of the podium at Rio 2016, acknowledged that “if you come out performing and you've got a medal around your neck, it's going to be a lot easier to be sitting in a room for two weeks”.
“You just want to make sure that you're walking away from the Olympics without any regrets and that you've done everything you can to do yourself proud,” Australia men’s coach Walsh told World Rugby.
“Win, lose or draw, we're going to be 14 days, you know, thinking about our performance.
“So, there's a lot more at stake than the outcome and the gold medal. We're not focusing on the gold medal.
“Everyone wants to win it, of course, [but] our focus is that we prepare the best way we know how and that we can walk away from that Olympics knowing that with what we know and what we had at our disposal, that we squeezed every drop of preparation out of it, and we're going to go there and enjoy it.”
Oceania rivals unite
Australia’s preparation will take a step up in intensity this weekend when men’s and women’s teams representing Fiji, New Zealand and Oceania arrive in Townsville to compete in the Oceania Sevens.
The tournament, in which each team will play six matches, will take place at North Queensland Stadium this Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and provides the hosts, Fiji and New Zealand with a meaningful warm-up ahead of the Games.
Since the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2020 was cut short due to the pandemic last March, Australia have only played one competitive international tournament, last month’s Trans-Tasman Sevens in Auckland.
Plans for that tournament and this weekend’s Oceania Sevens were put in motion following talks between Walsh and his counterparts in Fiji and New Zealand, Gareth Baber and Clark Laidlaw, about how the regional rivals could help each other on the road to Tokyo.
“To prepare against the best in the world is pretty good prep. So I think as an Oceania bubble, that's an advantage that we have,” he said.
“This is a huge positive. Three of the top four teams are here in Oceania and look, rugby's about and COVID's about uniting people and using what we have to perform.
“And, I spoke to both Gareth and Clarke eight or nine months ago and we had this, not a pact, but [we asked] ‘how can we, as Oceania, prepare in a way that we all go to the Olympics and we come home with three medals?’
“We can fight out what colour they are, but, for right here, right now, how can we prepare us as Oceania?”
Walsh admitted that he had “never been so happy to see a black jersey” when his side took on the All Blacks Sevens in May.
And, although Australia lost all six of their matches in Auckland, he was able to take a number of positives from watching his squad in competitive action for the first time in more than a year.
“It would have been nice to win a couple, absolutely,” Walsh said. “But we had many objectives, as did New Zealand, with integrating players.
“We're giving players opportunities for selection, we're strengthening combinations, we’re trying to look at different ways in which we prepare for an Olympics in terms of warm-ups and different styles of prep and training beforehand and after, and recovery.
“So, there were so many different factors at play there and we were really happy with the things that we got out of it.
“But absolutely, you're defined basically on your result, on your outcome, and we didn't get a win. So, we’ve got some work to do, absolutely.
“But, you know, we were certainly happy with the objectives that we were aiming to get out of that tournament.”
‘Cherry’s contribution was massive’
Walsh made the switch from coaching Australia’s women to the nation’s men in 2018, but the majority of the squad that he coached to glory in Rio five years ago will be on display in Townsville.
One gold-medallist who won’t be on the pitch, however, is Emilee Cherry, who announced her retirement from international sevens at the end of last month.
Walsh revealed that Cherry’s “was the first name on the selection paper” while he was her coach, as he paid tribute to the former World Rugby Women’s Sevens Player of the Year.
“Her contribution to the team, but to the whole women's sevens movement was massive,” Walsh said.
“The way that she handles herself on and off the field, I think it just displays the values of rugby. And, she sort of brought it to her own style as well.”
He added: “Emilee, I think was one of the best players ever to play the game, male or female. And for me, I hold her in the utmost regard, having worked so close to her.
“But, she was always there in the centre of the action whenever there was a massive play or something that was really important going on.
“Within my tenure, we won nine tournaments and Emilee was in every single one of them and that's a testament to her athletic ability, but the way she handles herself off the field and leads.
“[Cherry leaves] a huge legacy, and I think she set a great example for for the future.”