Going behind the scenes with any team or athlete is always a challenge. There are so many things to balance in terms of discretion, confidentiality, ‘stories’; as well as not getting in the way or being seen as a hindrance! The magazine has however had a good working relationship with the Australian Rugby
Union (ARU) for a coupleof years now. We have been given complete access to management at all levels, met at their Headquarters, talked about their
‘Pathway to Gold’ program, seen the youth squad in action at the Youth Olympics, as well as spending timebehind the scenes the last two seasons on
the Women’s Sevens World Series (WSWS) circuit with the senior team.
The Australians have got their train in order: they set up a feeder/talent program called ‘Pathway to Gold’ and have been bringing athletes into the
senior team through this program. As well as this, a centralised contract and training regime have been put in place with new coaching staff in
the last year. This has born obvious benefits and has done so very quickly. Given the scale of the country alone, centralized training in Sydney
has had a significant impact, as Charlotte Caslick said “...to be able to train and play with the girls every day is great, it’s so different.”
The view from the ARU management down through the ranks has always been welcoming and wanting to enable me being around. I was given unfettered access
to the senior team, which has been great - and so this is a view from inside the inner sanctum of the Australian 7’s Rugby team.
I wrote nearly 3 years ago that this is a team with huge potential and one that would make significant impact on the world stage, so I find it very
exciting to have observed this journey so closely.
I would like to think that over the course of two seasons and with the complete access I have had it would have been hard to pretend or keep up a pretences
in the midst of the pressure of international matches. Therefore what I have seen is what is real, ‘warts and all’; I experienced their genuinness,
transparency and openness.
Team manager Scott and the team could not have been more welcoming, with Scott including me as part of the team (‘one of us’) for the week-end. Not
only that though, it was their relaxed attitude and the authorisation to come and goas I pleased without having to be edited along the way that
made such a difference. I appreciate both the access they gave me and their attitude: it says a great deal about the team and their culture, and
also speaks volumes about the ARU. This is a governing body that wants to promote women’s Rugby and is proud of what has been achieved and acknowledges
the media partnerships.
There is more to the team than just this though. The atmosphere is very relaxed and informal, there is music playing and joking going on amongst the
players - but the moment Tim Walsh starts talking they are attentive and straight away get on with the tasks at hand. There is a focus and desire
to do everything they can to be the best they can for themselves, but also for each other and - very interestingly - also for team manager Scott
and Coach Tim Walsh. As Emily Cherry summed it up when explaining this, “Walshy and Scotty have a knowledge and passion that make us want to be
better people on and off the field.” And there it is, that ‘something’ people talk about, that secret ingredient. These are two seasoned professionals
- and yes, they can do a good job, but actually what they bring to the team and what makes this team great is the culture and ethos Scott and Tim
have brought. They have enabled the girls to be great by showing them how to be better people both on and off the pitch. Not just on but off too
- and that is the critical part for me.They are concerned about the total person as well as the team. Captain Sharni Williams says, “Tim has brought
an X factor to the team.” They all see it and acknowledge the value of being part of it.
Spending a couple of days with them was good fun and at every point you could see that the values they upheld were very much in evidence on the field
as well as off. On winning the IRB Player of the Year award, Emily Cherry’s comment was that “...it’s great to win such a prestigious award, but
it’s down to the team.” She is right: if you look at their stats as a team, there are numerous try scores with five of them being in the top twenty
try scores for the series. It shows the teamwork and lack of self importance that they have cultured. They love to throw the ball around and score.
It’s about the team winning, it’s not about personal success.
The team make the most of being on tour so far from friends and family, connecting with each other. Once again the management do all they can to mitigate
these challenges and it’s great to see the younger ones being looked out for by the older ones and the team as a whole allowing each person to
be. There is a real sense of unity in the team that was so nice to be a part of for that period of time.
My final comment would be that in all of my requests for interviews, in taking pictures of them relaxing, training etc., there was never a hand to
the camera, an attitude, a refusal to co-operate or even being asked to leave a team brief. I was a part of the team for that weekend and so I
was welcomed and part of it. If they did that for me, how much more do they do that for the ‘newbies’ who arrive and need to settle into an elite
team and embrace a team culture. They have made it easy to be part of a team, embrace the culture and be prepared to ‘throw their bodies on the
line’ and make it count. So they talk about a ‘pathway to gold’ - but I think that Tim, Scott and the team have gold already and I look forward
to see how this develops further over time.