Woman of steel

Sharni Williams and the Australian team.
Sharni Williams and the Australian team.

AUSTRALIAN Sevens rugby union captain, Sharni Williams, has definitely earned the Woman of Steel title bestowed upon her.

Last week the ex-Batlow sports star was named the Australian Rugby Union Sevens woman player of the year at the prestigious ARU John Eales annual awards evening.

Having already taken out the title for best 15s player in 2010, Williams’s appointment as captain for the Australian Women’s Sevens team for the World Cup in June this year has been followed up by receiving the top player accolade and has cemented the hard running forward in as one of the best sevens players in the world.

The awards night encompasses the men’s and women’s 15s and sevens teams and acknowledges those players who stand out in the elite competitions.

“I was nominated along with three other girls and figured I had played a good year of football so I might be in with a shot,” Williams said. “To win was a great feeling. I am so happy about it.

“To be named captain this year was awesome and both are big achievements for me.

“Now is such an exciting time for women’s rugby.”

Whilst the Sevens World Cup in Russia did not to go to plan with the Aussie girls narrowly missing out on a top four finish, the players could hold their heads high after toppling the tough English side in the plate final.

The match went down to the wire and was played in abysmal conditions with Williams, sporting a blood nose and cut chin, scoring the winning try right on the full time whistle.

It was this match that gained Williams her new title of Woman of Steel from the international media covering the tournament.

Just moments before crossing the white line, with padding jammed up her nose to stem the bleeding, Williams was involved in a jaw splitting incident that saw her chin collide with the knees of an English opponent.

Getting up and taking her place in the offensive back-line, several passes later Williams was through a gap, placing the ball down in total exhaustion to secure the victory.

“I couldn’t even dive across the line to score because I thought there is no way I’ll be able to get up again,” Williams said. “I did everything I could to win the game, we all played so hard as we were disappointed to not make it to the cup final.

“The campaign did not go as planned as we wanted to finish in the top four. We lost in the final 30 seconds against Spain, which knocked us out. When you blow it with only 30 seconds to go it’s a bit rubbish.

“We only had half an hour after the loss to Spain to prepare to play against England in the plate final. It was a great experience to come from such a low and pick yourself up and beat England in those wet conditions that suited them.”

The fast pace and hard hitting nature of sevens provides the players with plenty of room to run. Looking down for a moment or missing a tackle usually results in a try to the opposition, so there is no down time during a match.

Williams transitions with ease from a 15s scrummaging prop forward to a quick-stepping sevens player.

Embracing the modified game, Williams is not quite ready to place her dreams of representing Australia at next year’s World Cup as part of the 15s team to the side.

Green and gold is now a permanent part of the talented forward’s wardrobe and whilst she is hell-bent on leading her Sevens team through qualifications and into the 2016 Olympics in Rio, the 15s game continues to entice her back.

“In 2010 I set the goal of wanting to play in the Rugby World Cup for 15s, it is my ultimate goal,” she said. “My direction is now sevens but I still would like to be part of the World Cup next year.

“I played 15s for Redlands this season and we beat Sunny Bank by one point in the grand final.

“I can still jump in and play when I like but find it important to also give back to rugby by being part of clinics and encouraging girls to be part of the sport.”

It is still under discussion whether the Australian Sevens players will be considered for next year’s 15s World Cup, but places in squad have been left vacant, a positive sign for players like Williams.

Eventually she can see that choices will have to be made as the sport grows amongst women, but for the moment she envisages she will be able to float between the two.

“If I can help get our Sevens team on the right track to Rio then I hope they will then let me play 15s,” Williams laughed. “The thing is there is not enough depth to split the Sevens and 15s just yet.

“We have a new coach, Tim Walsh and he is really good. He has played men’s sevens for Australia, so he has experience and a great history in rugby.”

Williams has enjoyed a small amount of down time post the Sevens World Cup and her training is now back to a full-on status.

The Aussie Sevens team, with Williams at the helm, competed in Noosa at the start of the month in the Oceania Women’s Sevens Championships and took home the winning silverware along with a major confidence boost.

After a lead-up tournament in Fiji mid-November, Williams will lead the team into the IRB Women’s Sevens World Series that kicks off November 28 in Dubai. This series, which consists of seven matches and extends through until May next year, acts as a potential springboard into the Olympics.

“We need to qualify to play in the Sevens at the Olympics so it is crucial we finish within the top eight teams this year and in the top four next year,” Williams said. “Otherwise we make it harder for ourselves and have to win other tournaments to get in.

“For me it has been a different experience stepping up for captain. I always give 100 per cent when I play but don’t talk much off the field. Now I have to lead by example and unite the girls off the field as it reflects on the field.

“When we are competing we hang out together a lot, you need time by yourself as well, but at the end of day we are there to do a job and you have to stick together. We are like a little family and I am hoping this closeness pays off this year.”

Whilst the practice sessions are gruelling and the games often brutal, Williams loves to play and she enjoys the fun times that accompany the sport.

With more funding aimed towards the sevens teams, workloads are expected to also increase to maintain the success of the teams and to ensure Australia remains a dominate force.

A new strength and conditioning coach is also on board and according to Williams is smashing the already fit athletes.

“It is amazing and we are seeing the changes in our bodies from his sessions,” she said. “We are pushing each other now. It is game on training for the Olympics.

“My mum and dad are so proud, they watched me play in Noosa. It was special as dad hasn’t seen me play for Australia.”

Family, friends and acknowledging the support she has received along the way is important to Williams.

Before heading off on her sevens campaign she will return to her hometown of Batlow to speak at the Batlow Technology School’s annual awards evening and also run a clinic the following day.

“It feels really good to be able to give back to where you came from,” Williams said. “I was into hockey then touch and athletics and always encouraged. You need that parent support. My parents used to drive me all around and I would not have achieved what I have without them.”