Batlow rugby union player Sharni Williams will lead the Australian team through the tunnel in Moscow at the end of the month when the Wallaroos take the field in the 2013 Rugby World Cup Sevens.
Not only will the 25-year-old be captaining the team for the first time, she will also be leading the defence of the world cup title that Australia won in 2009.
In true Williams style, she has grabbed the challenge firmly with both hands and is running with it.
After pulling on the green and gold for the Australian Sevens squad in 2011, Williams now has three years and a Rugby World Cup with the Australian Wallaroos under her belt and has made the transition from 15-a-side rugby to the sevens competition a smooth one.
“To be named captain was awesome, it is a big achievement for me and was a big surprise, especially for a girl from Batlow,” Williams said. “It is an exciting time for women’s rugby and for sevens rugby now it has been made an Olympic sport. That is my major goal at the moment, to play for Australia at the 2016 Olympics in Rio.”
Now residing in Brisbane to pursue her rugby career, Williams is currently in camp and following a gruelling training and recovery schedule that includes several physically demanding sessions a day along with ice/heat treatments, media education and a strict nutritional program as well.
Trained as a mechanic, Williams has spent more time lately on the paddock than under a bonnet, but is prepared to make the sacrifices required to be an elite athlete.
“I actually have just gotten a job last Friday after looking for a position for four months,” Williams said. “It is at Toowong Toyota in Brisbane and they have been wonderful in understanding I am out so much with rugby, I am lucky they took me on.
“I moved to Brisbane in January to be closer to more of the team who are based here. I was in Canberra before that after I left Batlow when I was 17.”
The women’s sevens and 15s team is yet to be considered as a professional team in Australia, meaning the players are still required to work, although they do receive assistance when playing and their expenses are covered when touring.
“We assemble for the World Cup and fly out on June 22 and the World Cup starts on June 29,” Williams said. “Next year we play 15s in Paris and we have played a world series this year in six countries including Dubai, the US, China and Amsterdam. It is a great way to see the world, we get a bit of downtime, but we are there essentially there to get in and play our footy.”
The growth of sevens rugby has seen the women receiving more exposure world wide and with four of the international women’s team turning professional, playing rugby full time like the Wallabies may only be a matter of time for the women as well.
The Australians face China, Ireland and South Africa in pool play at the upcoming tournament and Williams and her team are acutely aware of the associated pressure that accompanies such events.
Apart from defending their title, they will also be trying to ensure they stay within the top eight to qualify directly for the next world cup.
In camp the 18-girl squad have been put through their paces against some of the Australian men’s players who are on the fringes of selection. A bit of banter, a lot of hard running and the odd tackle features in the training session, which Williams said have put their team in good stead for their upcoming matches.
“The sessions against the guys really help us in terms of agility, speed and moving up quickly on our opposition,” she said. “It has probably helped our defence more than anything as you have to push up and get onto them quick as they are big fast boys.
“We don’t tackle but a couple of the girls give it to them a bit. As the boys have run full pelt at them some of the girls couldn’t help but tackle them.”
Williams is proud of her Batlow upbringing and whilst most of her fellow players and all of her international rivals have not heard of the hill top apple growing town, the start Williams received on local hockey fields helped develop her competitive nature.
“My mum is very proud of me,” Williams said. “It is exciting to be playing at this level and now be captain. My mum always dreamt of me doing this, but she thought it would be in hockey. My parents have always driven me about to play sport.
“I used to play hockey in the Tumut competition and wanted to play league with the boys but wasn’t allowed to.”
In 2008 Williams was introduced to the oval ball and once on the field, demonstrated a natural talent for the running game.
“I love the physical side of rugby,” she said. “I play inside centre in 15s and prop for sevens so I get to run the ball up the guts and palm people.
“The friends that you make is a great part of playing and the coverage and media side is exciting and I like chatting to people about it as it gets more exposure for the girls.”
Similar to many women that play within a traditionally male dominated arena, Williams has experienced her fair share of sexist comments and flack. She answers the sceptics directly once on the field with her strong running game and dominate defence.
“Once guys see us play change their minds,” she laughs. “For sevens we prepare a bit differently to 15s as we need to be leaner but you don’t want to lose muscle. We do a lot of conditioning work and running.
“Technology helps us with our training and there is no hiding in sevens.”
Apart from the Australian players the New Zealand, England, Canadian and Russian teams are the ones to watch in the 2013 World Cup Sevens.
Looking forward to the exciting tournament, Williams cannot imagine life without rugby, even after she eventually hangs her boots up.
“If I’m not playing I’ll be definitely trying to coach,” Williams said. “My next goal is to get to the Olympics since I’ve now ticked the box to captain the country, which is such an amazing achievement for me.
“I have coached junior girls in Canberra including Tumut’s Caitlyn Veitch. I enjoy coaching and Caitlyn is certainly passionate about her rugby and with her support system to take her to the matches, she will be a great little player.”
To follow the Aussie Wallaroos head to scrumqueens.com