Aussie 7s teams aim to match uniform and medal color at Rio
It has become an Australian rugby tradition to wear gold in international competition. With the return of rugby union to the Olympic program, selectors are hoping they've picked the right people in those jerseys to win a medal of the same color in Rio de Janeiro.
The Australian women's team, a mix-and-match ensemble of athletes from other sports, enters the Olympic sevens tournament as world champions, a rare achievement in a series previously ruled by New Zealand.
The team features 12 regulars from the world series, led by co-captains Shannon Parry and Sharni Williams and including former sprinter Ellia Green, the fastest player in women's rugby.
Williams played field hockey and was a qualified mechanic before quitting her job to become a full-time rugby player, while Chloe Dalton had hopes of representing Australia's basketball team the Opals before switching.
Parry said the Australians had grown in confidence with their dominating run in the world series, but were careful not to put too much emphasis on that status ahead of a one-off tournament for Olympic medals where New Zealand, Canada and Britain posed big threats.
"To be honest, you can't compare the world series with the Olympics," Parry said Thursday. "It's about consistency in five to six tournaments around the world over a period of time — the Olympics is about the best of the best over three days ... not necessarily who has gone the best all season."
The men's team is a much longer shot at gold, and is full of specialists in the rugby sevens format. Having rugby in the Olympics for the first time since 1924 attracted interest from stars of the traditional 15-a-side game, but the likes of Wallabies veteran Quade Cooper didn't make the cut.
Cooper, a star playmaker for Australia, tried to qualify for the Olympic team but didn't get enough time to practice or play with the sevens squad after moving to France to play for Toulon.
Wallabies speedsters Nick Cummins and Henry Speight also committed to the sevens program, but missed out because of injuries.
Ed Jenkins, Australia's most-capped international sevens player, will lead a team containing experienced professionals James Stannard, Cam Clark and Pat McCutcheon. Jess Parahi made the late decision to quit the National Rugby League and was rewarded with selection in the Olympic team.
"A gold medal has been our ambition for a while now," Jenkins said. "Looking at the team we have for Rio it will definitely be the strongest we have fielded all year."
The Australian men placed fourth in the 10-stop world series, reaching finals in Sydney and Las Vegas where they lost to New Zealand and Fiji — the favorites for gold.
The Australian men's team opens against France on Aug. 9 and also plays Spain and South Africa in Group B.
The Australian women kick off Group A against Colombia and Fiji on Aug. 6 and meet the United States on Aug. 7.
Women: Shannon Parry, Sharni Williams, Nicole Beck, Gemma Etheridge, Ellia Green, Emma Tonegato, Evania Pelite, Charlotte Caslick, Chloe Dalton, Amy Turner, Alicia Quirk, Emilee Cherry.
Men: Nick Malouf, Jesse Parahi, Henry Hutchison, Lewis Holland, James Stannard, Con Foley, Cameron Clark, Pat McCutcheon, Ed Jenkins, Allan Faalavaau, John Porch, Tom Cusack.