How to create a champion women’s Sevens side in three months
A few weeks after watching the Australian women’s Sevens side win a gold medal at the Rio Olympics, a young netballer from Cronulla in Sydney’s south decided she wanted to play rugby.
Cassie Staples was already a State League netballer and had been training at an elite level for five years, but the 24-year old now had a new goal.
“I sent a training clip of her deadlifting 130kg and doing muscle ups to Tim Rapp at the Waratahs and he forwarded it onto the ARU,” Justin Lang, an exercise physiologist at Live Athletic told Rugby News.
“Tim Walsh (Australian women’s coach) saw the video and invited her in to do some testing and she ran the second quickest time over 40 metres in the squad.”
Walsh told Staples that while he was impressed with her athletic ability, she needed to learn to play rugby. He said the current Australian women’s squad had three to four years of experience and that the best way to learn the game was to play it.
“There were no Sevens programs in southern Sydney, so I told Cas that I would start one,” Lang continued.
“We did a social media recruitment drive and basically said that we were looking for talented female athletes that were interested in playing Sevens.
“We wanted girls with strength, speed and fitness and then we created a program based around what the Australian Women’s Sevens girls were doing.”
In November last year, Pride Sevens was born.
The program, designed for elite, ambitious female athletes in southern Sydney attracted plenty of interest and by the end of the month, Lang had assembled a squad.
“In the group we’ve got Premier League netballers, representative soccer players, basketball players, a few league and touch players, a dancer, hockey players, beach sprinters and an Australian Oztag representative.
“Basically we’ve had to teach them every skill from scratch but they’ve picked them up incredibly quickly. All the girls have been successful in other sports so they know what it takes, but they are extremely dedicated. Most of them have been passing a footy now every day for three months straight.”
On the weekend, just over three months after their first session together, Pride won the Crescent Head Sevens tournament in emphatic style.
“We went through undefeated and didn’t have a try scored against us all day. We won 21-0, 32-0, 42-0, 28-0, then in the final we beat Sydney Uni 14-0,” Lang said.
“Considering most of them hadn’t touched a footy a few months ago, it was incredible to watch.”
So how do you create a champion women’s Sevens side in three months?
“Most of the girls are doing four strength sessions a week, two speed sessions, two conditioning sessions, plus we do two contact sessions in the gym on crash mats and an on-field session each week.
“They’ve all indicated that they want to play Sevens at a state or national level, so we’re giving them the opportunity to train like a professional athlete.”
Lang recruited former Australian Sevens player Michael Black to coach the side on the field, while he focused on the girl’s strength and conditioning.
“When Cassie met with Tim Walsh he told her she needed three things. She needed to be able to pass the ball both ways, she needed to show willingness in the contact side of the game and she needed to back herself on the field. He said he didn’t mind if she made mistakes, but he wanted to see what she could do with the footy in her hand.”
“From that, we decided that tackling and passing were the two key skills and to the girls credit, they’ve worked extremely hard on both.”
While the traditional Sevens tournament circuit is now over for the year, Lang says the squad will continue to train together through winter. He said the next goal was to get as many of the girls into the NSW squad for the Australian Sevens Championship in November.
He’s also hoping a number of them will feature in the inaugural National University Sevens tournament later this year.
“Pride is about giving girls an opportunity to train like a professional athlete with the aim of becoming an Australian Sevens player. Some will, some won’t but we want to give them every opportunity,” he said.
“We know how many talented female athletes are out there and now a lot of them are playing in the wrong sport. They’ve now got an opportunity to play Sevens at a state, national or international level and then potentially compete at an Olympics. Who wouldn’t want that?”