Opposition from New Zealand, Fiji, England, Ireland and Brazil will keep Griffith graduate Shannon Parry on her toes this weekend at the HSBC Sydney Sevens.
“The more high-grade competitions we have up and running, the more our national team will be kept in good stead going forward,” the Pearls star said.
“More importantly, the universities competition will open up pathways for grassroots rugby and give young women the chance to play a sport that is still generally male-dominated.”
Griffith University is one of eight teams named by the Australian Rugby Union to compete in the National University Sevens Series. Teams from NSW, South Australia, Tasmania and ACT will compete with three Queensland teams.
Director of Griffith Sports College, Duncan Free OAM (pictured), welcomed the announcement following a rigorous selection process that focused on what universities could offer in terms of high-performance programs and national community engagement.
“This will be the highest level of competition for women playing rugby sevens in Australia and therefore will be the highest-level pathway into the Pearls squad,” Duncan Free said.
He said the set-up of the Griffith University team would seek to ensure current students are a mainstay of the run-on team and have the opportunity to play alongside stars of the game and external players from outside the university community.
Members of the gold medal-winning Australian Women’s Sevens squad will be divided up between the teams which will each comprise a mix of students and non-students.
Griffith University will also partner with Griffith Uni Colleges Knights Rugby Club and Sunnybank Rugby Union Club in building its first women’s sevens squad.
Gaven Head from the Sunnybank club described Queensland as a stronghold of women’s sevens rugby for a number of years.
“Sunnybank Rugby has a long-term relationship with Griffith University driven mainly by the geographical proximity of the club with the Nathan campus,” he said.
“As well as extending the participation options and resources for Griffith students, there are options for students to develop their studies practically with the Sunnybank Rugby businesses including intern engagements.
Major step forward
Shannon Parry co-captained Australia to Rio gold when the Pearls defeated New Zealand in the inaugural Olympic final last August. Her sparkling rugby career started with Easts Rugby Club while studying a Bachelor of Education at Griffith.
“I think the National University Sevens Series is a major step forward,” she said.
“At the moment new players get picked up playing club rugby or from touch or other sports. But there are not a lot of avenues to play football consistently throughout the year.
“This is a great opportunity to tap into the universities. There might be a sprinter who can be converted into a winger, or a javelin player we could turn into a forward.
“There is definitely an untapped market of players there where we could look to unearth the next Charlotte Caslick.”
The elite domestic competition with a national footprint will kick off in August with the first of four tournaments also involving teams from University of Canberra, University of Adelaide, University of Tasmania, University of New England, Macquarie University, Bond University and University of Queensland.
Australian Women’s Sevens Head Coach Tim Walsh said most players on the Olympic team didn’t come from a rugby background.
“With this new pathway available, younger players will have a clear goal and be motivated to strive for selection and develop their skills.”