The mechanic at the heart of Australia's Rio champions

The Sharni Williams the world sees is the hard as nails Sharni Williams. Australian co-captain, mechanic.

For that Sharni, look up a clip from the 2013 Sevens World Cup. Nose plugged to stem the bleeding from a bruising clash with England, she's smeared in dirt and sweat. A botched re-start puts her on a collision course with their flanker's knee and even as you watch Williams' head ricochet from the impact, she manages to find her feet and score a try to seal the win. That's hard as nails Sharni.

Sit with her a little while, though, give her a minute to come to you, and you realise it's her heart as much as her toughness that has kept her at the helm of the Australian sevens team. You meet the Sharni who views fixing people's cars as her calling, who was elated to lead Australia to gold in Rio but feels just as satisfied with her head under a bonnet.

"I'm a big feeler, I give everything with anything I do. When I complete something and someone drives off in that car and you know that they're better off, it's satisfying. It drives me to go back to rugby feeling accomplished and ready to give everything for them," she says.

"Captaining Australia to a gold medal was unreal but fixing people's cars is something pretty awesome as well. Brake pads are a massive thing, if someone doesn't put their foot on the brake properly that's a terrible thing. Me being able to fix that when they don't have those skills makes me feel wanted and like I'm contributing. In rugby, within our team, everyone needs that. You're going to get the best out of people if they feel wanted."

At 29, Williams' and co-captain Shannon Parry, 29, wear the 'grandmas' tag among a team of much younger women, but they are more wanted than ever before as the side navigate life after Olympic success. A gold medal brought greater scrutiny, on the field and off it. They finished a respectable second in last year's world series - Williams was named in the 2017 Dream Team - but did not scale the heights they had envisioned.

A cup win in Dubai last month to kick off the 2017-18 world series has boosted hopes of a home town victory at round two in Sydney this weekend and Williams and Parry have made sure the women are focused but relaxed. For Williams, a full time contracted athlete, that means picking up a day of work each week at the NRMA's Brookvale workshop.

"Mentally it refreshes me. I do need to switch off from rugby and turn the mechanic brain on," she says. "It is still tiring being on your feet all day and it's quite stimulating mentally, but it's that accomplishment knowing you've done something."

There's a lot to be said for keeping the heart and body in balance and a country upbringing in Batlow in the Riverina produced an athlete as open as she is tough. As the sevens program's resident mechanic, Williams fixes problems off the field, too.

"It is tough to juggle and there are days where I say to Will, my foreman, 'I need the day to recover', he says 'no worries'," Williams says.

"We have a really good relationship, I'm so lucky to have that connection with NRMA and they can be so flexible."

She credits her truck driver father with her love of engines and the trademark grit that made her conversion a decade ago from hockey to rugby a success.

"When I was learning to drive Dad put a trailer on the back of the car and made me reverse park," she says. "He was pretty harsh on me but that made me into the driver and mechanic I am."

And probably the player.

This story The mechanic at the heart of Australia's Rio champions first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.