Australia’s bid to qualify for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games has been boosted by the return of World Rugby Women’s Sevens Player of the Year Emilee Cherry following a knee injury.
Cherry picked up the injury during the Atlanta Sevens in March and had to sit out the next round in Canada the following month, two events which saw Australia crash out early in the Cup quarter-finals.
Coach Tim Walsh has admitted having Cherry back in a 14-strong squad for the London Sevens, the penultimate round of the World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series, is a “huge boost”.
Australia now sit third in the standings but as the race to secure a top four berth to qualify for rugby sevens’ debut at the Olympic Games intensifies, there are only 12 points separating Canada in second to Russia in seventh.
“It goes without saying that having a player with the quality of Emilee is a huge boost. She is a world-class player who is a key game-breaker for us,” admitted Walsh.
“I haven't altered too much player-wise from Langford but we have worked on a few things in training that I'm confident will improve our performance from the last two tournaments.”
The uncapped duo of Taleena Simon and Dominique du Toit have been included in the extended squad, while Evania Pelite will be part of the travelling party to London, but will not be considered for selection until the following weekend in Amsterdam as she recovers from a thigh problem.
“Even though we have played in invitational tournaments in London before, this is a new tournament on the World Series calendar and one we are all looking forward to immensely.
"For the semi-finalists, there is the huge incentive of playing at a Twickenham which will give women’s rugby a fantastic boost in profile.
“However, first things first, we are focusing all our energies on a tough pool on the first day. We have a good record against Fiji so far this season, but as they have showed this season, an on-song Fiji is a dangerous proposition.
“China will be desperate to avoid relegation from the World Series while we all know what to expect from a USA side that is now knocking on the door of a top four spot in the World Series standings.”
The London Sevens takes place at the Twickenham Stoop, although the third place play-off and Cup final will be played at Twickenham at the conclusion of the first day of the HSBC Sevens World Series on 16 May.
Australia squad (two to be omitted): Nicole Beck, Charlotte Caslick, Emilee Cherry, Chloe Dalton, Dominique du Toit, Gemma Etheridge, Ellia Green, Shannon Parry, Tiana Penitani, Alicia Quirk, Taleena Simon, Emma Tonegato, Amy Turner, Sharni Williams (captain).
OLYMPIAN JOINS USA SQUAD
Olympic bobsledder Emily Azevedo will make her debut for USA in the final rounds of the World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series in London and Amsterdam this month.
Azevedo, a former 100m hurdler who finished fifth in the 2010 Olympic Games in Sochi as brakeman to Bree Schaaf, will get her chance after impressing coach Ric Suggitt in camps at the Olympic Training Center.
“We’ve done this in the last three or four tournaments,” explained Suggitt. “We bring in a new player so we don’t leave any stone unturned. We want to see if they can actually work within a team environment, then, when they get there, they’re productive when they’re on the field.
“Emily has great physical attributes, she’s blazing fast and very powerful. This will be a great opportunity for her to be judged equally in that environment to make a decision for the NACRA Sevens – if we have to go there – and the Pan Am Games.”
She won’t be the first bobsledder to play for the USA on the World Series as 2010 Olympic silver medallist Elana Meyers donned the Stars and Stripes jersey in Guangzhou and Amsterdam last season.
"Every team’s getting better, every team wants to win."
Azevedo and Hannah Lopez are the only changes to the USA Women’s Eagles Sevens squad that beat neighbours and tournament hosts Canada to win the Plate in the previous round in Langford last month, replacing Melissa Fowler and Katherine Zackary.
The Women’s Eagles currently sit joint fifth in the standing with England on 48 points, just four points behind fourth-ranked France as the race to secure a top four finish and qualification for Rio 2016 hots up. In fact only 12 points separate Canada in second from Russia in seventh.
Suggitt’s side will face third-ranked Australia – who they have beaten in the last two rounds of the series – as well as China and Fiji in Pool C at the Twickenham Stoop in London on 15-16 May.
“We have a pretty good draw, but there are no easy games,” admitted Suggitt. “Every team’s getting better, every team wants to win.
“There are still six teams battling for three (Olympic qualification) spots. We won’t be counting on anyone else. Our players are all prepared; we’ve looked at the mathematics and different scenarios and it comes down to us at the end of the day.”
USA squad: Megan Bonny, Kelly Griffin, Kathryn Johnson, Alev Kelter, Bui Baravilala, Lauren Doyle, Victoria Folayan, Joanne Fa’avesi, Emily Azevedo, Irene Gardner, Hannah Lopez, Kristen Thomas.