Former Orange Emus star Alana Thomas has been given an exciting opportunity to help prepare the Fijian women's rugby team for their very first World Cup bid.
The Melbourne Rebels Super W coach will work under Fijian head coach Serirusi Seruvakula as part of The Rugby World Cup internship program.
While it means she's watching even more closely than most of us for travel opportunities to open up again, it's an extremely exciting time for the coach who's spent most of this year in lockdown.
Fijiana is one of nine teams confirmed for the Rugby World Cup, scheduled - all being well - to kick off in New Zealand on September 18, 2021.
Having worn the Wallaroos colours in a rugby World Cup herself, Thomas acknowledges it would be strange to be in the Fijiana camp should the two sides meet.
But opportunities like this don't come up too often, and the coach wouldn't miss it for anything.
"(Seruvakula) is definitely a well respected coach ... and the experience he will bring will be fantastic," Thomas said.
Having played World Cup rugby, she'll bring her own insights as she helps this side prepare.
These players are going to be trailblazers for the future.Alana Thomas
Thomas describes the squad as possessing a lot of raw talent. It's an exciting time for such a passionate rugby nation, and Thomas is thrilled to be part of it.
"These players are going to be trailblazers for the future," Thomas said.
Thomas will manage the commitments of her work with the Victorian Institute of Sport and fly in, fly out to Fiji through the year - COVID-19 permitting.
She hopes to attend their first training camp next month, but acknowledges it could be February before she meets the players in person.
This year has been very different, particularly during the second wave of lockdown.
"My last day in the office was March 23," Thomas said.
The Melbourne Rebels had about four weeks of training before the "second wave" of COVID-19 sent the city into hard lockdown.
Having proven she can work remotely is one good thing to have come out of the period, Thomas also had time to work on her own development as a coach.
"It's allowed me to stop and catch up," she said.
The world went online: from webinars and coaching seminars to lots of club rugby in other areas that Thomas could tune in to while she was only allowed out one hour a day for exercise herself.
For her players, it's been a strange year: they came off a really good Super W season and then shut down. Some have been at home guiding their children through remote learning, others lost work.
"They're all keen to get out and about," Thomas said. "But we're still waiting on confirmation of Super W."
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