Sevens heaven: women put distractions behind them

Finally on an equal footing with their male counterparts on and off the field, Australia's women's sevens team are better placed than ever to take home the cup at the Sydney Sevens this weekend.

The reigning Olympic champions face Spain at 11.50am in their first match at Allianz Stadium on Friday before playing Papua New Guinea at 2.30pm and France at 5.18pm in their final match of the day.

Their schedule is a far cry from the humiliation of last year when they were forced to play some of their matches on the Kippax Oval training field across the road from the main stadium.

It also comes less than a month after the Australian women celebrated a big win on entry-level pay equality with the men's sevens and Super Rugby squads.

Australian gun Charlotte Caslick revealed the two issues, which dominated the lead up to last year's tournament, distracted the women and played some part in their disappointing third place finish.

"This season we've been focused on ourselves a lot and been completely performance driven so everything we do comes back to how we're performing and that's the best way to go about it," Caslick said.

"Last season we got a bit distracted by those outlying issues that we couldn't control, so we're focusing on ourselves, focusing on what we can control and hopefully perform when we get out [there]."

You can't please everyone, however. The shake up has meant all men's games have been spread out across the new, three-day format, which has put some noses out of joint among the men's teams assembled in Sydney ahead of the competition.

Teams such as the US and Australia, who will play only one game, very late, on the first day of the tournament, now face a day of physical and mental preparation for just one, 14-minute hit-out at 8pm.

Ruffled feathers aside, the change has put a smile on the faces of the Australian women and their coach, Tim Walsh, who said the changes showed how powerful a commodity winning was.

"[Gender parity] is a result of success and what the girls pioneered as players on and off the field, they've had a big part in pushing that," Walsh said.

The outgoing coach, who will finish up after the Commonwealth Games in April, called for World Rugby to extend the mixed tournament format across the world series format.

The women play six tournaments in the current series and the men play 10, with just Sydney, Las Vegas and Dubai combining both sexes across three days.

"To have men and women together across a full world series would be the ultimate goal. I think three days, three gates, three days of men and women... it's the way forward," he said.

"We've been lobbying for that for a while and it's great to have Rugby Australia initiate that [here] but other countries have done it as well and I think it's a big step forward for the game globally."

It is yet to be seen whether the move could be commercially viable. The move to the mixed format in Australia forced administrators to effectively swap their tournament date with New Zealand, who took the opportunity to move the sevens from Wellington to Hamilton.

That has put the competition on a collision course with Australia Day and, in a double whammy for Rugby Australia, a three-day long weekend. That will not always be the case, as the public holiday will move around, but ticket sales this year have taken a solid hit.

Plans to re-build Allianz Stadium have also cast doubt on the future of the tournament. Rugby Australia could be faced with finding a new home for the three-year-old fixture, instead of bedding down its spot on the Sydney summer sports calendar.

This story Sevens heaven: women put distractions behind them first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.