Ruck and roll: women's sevens all the rage

IN THE race to build an Olympics-ready women's sevens rugby team, Australian selectors are casting their net wide. Very wide.

In demand are not just touch footballers and women who have played rugby, but hockey players, AFL players, netballers and even martial artists.

For the first time, sevens rugby will be in included at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janiero in 2016.

A few years playing touch may cement passing and catching skills but AFL players bring a kicking game to rugby and proficiency under the high ball; hockey players have superior spatial awareness and a judo practitioner proved to the national women's sevens coach, Chris Lane, that martial arts skills can translate into tackling ability.

''She was very physical, as you can imagine,'' Lane said of the judoka who turned up to a clinic in Melbourne.

''But again, that's another skill and one of the areas [Australia] is not so good at - the tackle contest, the ruck, throwing people around. She's got a point of difference to everyone in the team.''

Lane has been delighted by the different talents a nationwide scouting drive has unearthed. Next weekend, the women's sevens roadshow arrives in Sydney and more than 150 women with a similarly diverse background have signed up to take part.

Among them are Anna Ruut and Rachael White, two members of the national ice hockey team who want to try sevens rugby because it has the potential to take them to the Olympics.

''We've competed in [ice] hockey at the highest level we can here in Australia and [the Olympics] is something hockey will never give us,'' Ruut said, referring to the difficulty of Australia ever qualifying for the Olympics.

The 25-year-old played touch football all through high school but it is fitness and game-reading from hockey and a short season playing AFL that Ruut hopes will help her stand out.

''Hopefully AFL will give me an advantage too because it's full fitness - getting hit [in a contact sport] is a different sort of fitness all together,'' she said.

Lane is in a race against time to prepare a squad for Rio. The United States, the Netherlands and Canada - once considered ''fringe'' rugby nations - have had full-time programs in place for at least 12 months and a national women's sevens competition is starting in the American college system this year.

Lane said the pressure was on Australia to respond by beefing up its talent pool.

''What [the Olympics] has done for women's rugby worldwide already is frightening from our point of view,'' Lane said.

Lane, who is also in the midst of preparing the national squad for next year's sevens World Cup in Moscow, said he wanted to take at least 60 women from across the trials to a three-day camp in Canberra. From there it is hoped state-based development squads will develop a pool of players to feed the national team over the next four years and beyond.

The story Ruck and roll: women's sevens all the rage first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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