Former captain returns for Australia women
A late injury to Cheyenne Campbell has opened the door for 2009 Women’s Rugby World Cup Sevens-winning captain Cheryl McAfee (nee Soon) to challenge for a place in Australia's women's team to compete in Dubai.
Campbell suffered a knee injury earlier this week, prompting coach Chris Lane to move McAfee into the squad for the Coral Coast Sevens in Fiji, a key warm-up ahead of the Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens, which is round one of the inaugural IRB Women's Sevens World Series.
McAfee captained the Australian Women’s Sevens team to victory in the 2009 Women’s Rugby World Cup Sevens and was a member of the Australian Wallaroos 2010 Women’s Rugby World Cup side, before taking a leave of absence from the game to start a family.
Away from the pitch, she was also a part of the IRB panel that successfully presented Rugby's case for a place in the Olympic Games to the IOC in 2009. In the ensuing period she has also taken up a position on the IRB's Rugby Committee.
McAfee still harbours ambitions to return to top-flight rugby, though, and was thrilled to get the opportunity to fight her way back into the national side.
“I am really excited, I’ve been working hard over the last few months so it’s great to get a foot in the door,” McAfee said.
“I know it’s not going to be easy but I’m excited to be one step closer and be given the opportunity.
“The sport is obviously enticing to a lot of people and it has attracted a lot of attention from players from different sports.
“I’m really impressed with what I’ve seen from the girls. It was an eye opener to get back into camp, I’d been out of it for a while and it was really exciting to see the fitness, skill and intensity from all the girls.”
Coach Chris Lane said McAfee had earned her spot in the squad on merit, having worked hard to recover from a two-year lay-off.
“She’s been training hard for the last six months and attended a couple of camps recently,” Lane said.
“She’s still got plenty to offer so it’s great to see her back in the squad. Cheryl realises she has entered a different environment to when she was captain in 2009. This is a new team with a new dynamic and everyone has worked hard to get here. She realises she’s on trial along with everyone else."
Emilee Cherry, recently named the Australian Rugby Women’s Player of the Year, will captain the side.
O'Connor: "Work to do"
Many of Australia's men's Sevens set-up are also set to compete in Fiji. The Aussies were among the strong favourites at the HSBC Sevens World Series opener on home soil at the Gold Coast, but they came unstuck on day two at Skilled Park, losing to Kenya and Argentina. Coach Michael O’Connor is looking forward to testing certain new combinations and players in a 'Thunderbolts' team at the Coral Coast Sevens.
“Our performance at the Gold Coast Sevens showed we’ve still got work to do, so this tournament is very timely for our Dubai preparations,” O’Connor said.
“It’s all about getting the guys exposed to good competition. This is a quality tournament and wouldn’t be far off a World Series standard, so it’s a good opportunity to see the players perform in a high-pressure environment.”
Jesse Parahi will captain the Thunderbolts in place of regular captain Ed Jenkins, who is being rested due to a minor shoulder injury received during the Gold Coast Sevens.
“It will be important for Dubai selections,” O’Connor said. “We’ve got a few injuries at the moment, so guys know if they can show form in Fiji they’ve a chance to play in Dubai.”
Aussie Pearls for Coral Coast Sevens: Shontelle Stowers, Alexandra Sulusi, Nikki Etheridge, Jessica Palmer, Cheryl McAfee (nee Soon), Tricia Brown, Katrina Barker, Cobie-Jane Morgan, Emilee Cherry (C), Gemma Etheridge, d’Arcy Sadler, Maddison Leslie Elliott
Aussie Thunderbolts for Coral Coast Sevens: Nick Malouf, Will Miller, Jesse Parahi (C), Peter Lee, Harry Parker, Cameron Clark, Allan Fa’alava’au, Greg Jeloudev, Jordan Tuapou, Con Foley, Pama Fou, Tom Pincus