Australian rugby taking 'enormous steps' into the future

On and off the field, Australian rugby is breaking new ground.Last year, Raelene Castle became the first woman...

Posted: Feb 13, 2018 1:42 PM
Updated: Feb 13, 2018 1:42 PM

On and off the field, Australian rugby is breaking new ground.

Last year, Raelene Castle became the first woman to head up any rugby organization when she was unveiled as the new CEO of Rugby Australia.

Women's rugby is thriving in Australia

The women's rugby sevens gold at Rio 2016 gave the sport a huge boost

The women's sevens team was recently granted pay parity with the men

Shortly afterward, Australia's male and female sevens players were granted pay parity on what was declared a "great day for women's sport."

And then, in January, Australia's women made history in Sydney by becoming the first team to win a Sevens World Series event without conceding a single point.

For Castle, the women's success on the field helped pave the way for the advances made off it, most notably in pay parity.

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"Athletes are training just as hard as the men, delivering commercial outcomes like the men are and therefore you can start to have not only the rational conversation about equality but also the more emotive conversation about it," she told CNN's World Rugby.

"It's an enormous step forward for our women's sevens team and I absolutely believe it's the right one."

Australia is unbeaten in this season's Sevens World Series, winning tournaments in Dubai and Sydney.

Add to this an Olympic gold medal at Rio 2016 and it's not surprise the seven-a-side game is booming Down Under -- participation increased from 200,000 to 1.7 million between 2014 and 2017, including a 33% rise during the Olympic year.

Eye on the future

The first women's Sevens World Series took place in 2012-13 and Australia became the first nation other than New Zealand to lift the title in 2016. This season's competition takes in five venues with Australia well positioned to claim its second crown.

This year there's the added incentive of a World Cup in July, hosted by the USA in San Francisco, and the Commonwealth Games, hosted in Australia's Gold Coast.

The stars of the Australian team have both youth and experience on their side. Emma Tonegato is 22 but has already scored 73 Sevens World Series tries. Charlotte Caslick is the same age and has already played in 138 games.

While the team's immediate future looks promising, it's long-term prospects are equally positive. A university sevens league has recently been introduced, giving up-and-coming players the chance to not only develop their skills, but to also stake a claim for national selection.

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"It's just going leaps and bounds," says sevens co-captain Sharni Williams, one of the gold medal winners in Rio.

"Having a new CEO as well come in on top of what we've started to create -- women's sport in Australia is really taking off."

A healthy position to be in, but getting there hasn't necessarily been easy. Even Tim Walsh, coach of the women's sevens team, was forced to reassess his rugby values.

"Seven years ago I was offered the coach and I said 'no, I'm not coaching women's rugby,'" he admitted.

"The whole world is seeing what amazing athletes and rugby players the women are. They're basically opening up a whole new genre and a whole new market to world rugby."

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