University of Melbourne Aon7s wrap: A Coach's Perspective

15 April, originally posted by Rugby Victoria, words by Jason Rogers – Head Coach University of Melbourne Aon7s

This is the story of the underdog 2021 University of Melbourne women's Aon7s team, who believed and then worked hard to deliver, from a coach’s perspective.

Rugby 7s is a tough sport. You get to run, bump, fend, hit rucks, and tackle at top speed for 14mins. It might not seem like a long time, but when you are on the field, it feels like 14hrs.

The Aon 7s campaign kicked off in September 2020 with over 60 women wanting to be part of the program. The goal was to compete in Rugby Australia Aon’s series in 2021 and compete against some of the best women’s 7s rugby players in Australia and the world. We decided as a group for 2021 that our theme would be, ‘We are a family – and we stick together’, our values were ‘Commitment, Honesty, Consistency, Reliability and Enjoyment.’ This became the foundation of the program. With the help of Kieron Lester (our S&C), he worked the girls hard to get them fit enough to compete at a national level. Scott Adlington and Alana Thomas assisted in focusing on the fundamentals skills of playing rugby 7s (stripping the skills back to the fundamentals). Sammi our Manager keep us all in sync with each other and kept in touch with the girls during the program to ensure our culture, communication, and support was there for all girls involved in the program, and Rowena our Physio kept the girls physically functioning.

Round 1

Game 1: MU 12 vs UQ 26

Game 2: GRIF 19 vs MU 7

Game 3: MU 7 vs ADE 21

Game 4: BOND 31 vs MU 0

Game 5: MU 12 v ADE 17

Our team’s effort on this day was the best I had seen from them over the whole program. It felt that we were close to other teams that we played on the day but just couldn’t get over the line in terms of winning a game. In the Griffith game, we were leading at half time – which we have never been in that position before against Griffith (this point is no disrespect to Griffith, it’s more about the point that we felt we were close to other teams). So we all knew that we were not too far off in what we were doing as a team on the field. We approached Sunday with a positive mindset focusing on Bond (lost 30-0), then we played for 4th/5th against Adelaide. This game was our final and the girls were disappointed that they hadn’t won a game. The girls went out against Adelaide with a game plan to focus on supporting and trusting each other in defence. Adelaide scored in that minute of extra time and our girls were absolutely gutted. It was an emotional time for everyone that was in that circle. I knew we couldn’t leave Brisbane with any feelings of negativity about each other, about our game, about the position we were in (which was last on the table. It was at this moment that the team forged a steely resolve to do better. This is the point where the team started to believe.

Round 2

Game 1: SYD 17 vs MU 7

Game 2: ADE 12 vs MU 21

Game 3: CAN 29 vs MU 5

QTR Final: CAN 12 vs MU 15

Semi Final: UTS 12 vs MU 10

Bronze Final: MU 12 vs SYD 27

We travelled to Newcastle on April 9th-11th. We debuted two of our 17-year-old players in this tournament and had the addition of Charlotte Caslick (one of the best rugby 7s players in the world), and Dom Du Toit (one of the best up and coming players in the world) from the Australian 7s team. Dom stayed with the girls for the whole of Day 2 and shared her experience and knowledge about the game as I coached the team on Day 2, she was so helpful to the coaching team and the girls on Day 2. We were up against Canberra again for our quarter-final match on Day 2. We won this game 15-12. This was a tough game, and we were lucky to win. Our girls worked hard, and with Charlotte playing with the girls, they were able to lift. We then played the championship semi-final against UTS. Melbourne University has never beaten Canberra before or played in a championship semi-final before. We lost the game 12-10, it was 5-all at half time. We did have an opportunity to level the score, but that’s sport. It felt like we had won the game for some strange reason. Charlotte had a foot injury, so we only had limited minutes playing her. Her contribution to us making the QF, then semi-final was just outstanding, and I would like to personally thank her for what she provided us over this weekend. In a final huddle before we left the Newcastle ground, she shared something special with the team. She shared that playing with MU over the weekend had reminded her why she fell in love with the game of 7s. She shared that playing with a group of girls that were welcoming, committed, passionate and fiercely competitive had reminded her what 7s is all about. There wasn’t a dry eye in the circle. This moment capped off a weekend of highs and lows, but we all left Newcastle feeling like we had won the tournament. Unfortunately, we don’t qualify for nationals, but 2021 will be the year that I remember the time we almost did!

I would like to thank a few people. Melbourne University (Rod and Larrissa particularly). Melbourne University Rugby Football Club (Jase Jones, Lotu, Tommy and Bully – thank you). Victoria Rugby, our competitors, and coaches (Cassidy, Mo, Setu, Marcus, Liam, James, Manny and others – thank you). Coaching and Management team of MU 7s (Scooter, Lanz, Sammi, Row, Kieron – thank you). And finally, to the players (Mel, Ames, Lyss, Annie, Beauty, Cait, Quey, Ellen, Em, Georgia S, Gee, Hal, Jade, Kelera, Kirsty, Maggy, Medz, Nadia, Frenchy, Nicole, Sarah, Neeks, Tyra, Wynnie), thank you for everything you have contributed to this program in 2021. For those who are continuing with Super W, going to NZ to play rugby, club rugby, going to the Olympics to officiate tennis, or going to the NRL to play league – we wish you all the best. We will be following you all as you do the thing you do best – work hard! I hope that we will work together again soon. But if not, it’s been an absolute pleasure, and thank you for the memories.

As for me, it’s a little rest, then onto finding the next 7s players coming out of Victoria (we do have rugby 7s talent in Victoria that is waiting to be discovered).