Australia's women's rugby Olympic winning coach Tim Walsh gives us the insight to his Rio experience, takes us through the detailed planning that led to gold and calls on World Rugby to expand the Women's World Series.
Tim Walsh on....
We had had two 3-day tournaments to prepare us for Rio. One with New Zealand back in March which was styled exactly as we expected the Olympics, including the girls staying in an apartment style hotel to replicate the village and the teams travelled a similar distance to what we expected in Rio to get to the games. We had another with Japan after the World Series and this time I threw in some curve balls. We had some fire alarms go off in the night, and I asked Charlotte Caslick to pretend to pull up injured in the warm-up. She should win an award for her performance – she was screaming and she cried and everyone was really upset because they thought her Olympics were over. She was so convincing I thought she had actually got injured. She was still standing there in a sling after I’d told the girls! They were pretty annoyed with me but the point I was making was that we had to be prepared for anything.
Concerns going into the tournament
I had two things in my mind that I thought could inhibit our success. The first was the mental application to stay focused over there with all of the distractions that would be around us and the second was about the need for us to be as physical as possible over three days. We know defence wins titles and we needed to go hard out from the off. On the mental side of it, we had a family day with friends and family before we left and we brought in water polo player Bronwen Knox and her mum to talk about what it’s really like and how best to support players during the tournament. I think we were blessed to have the rugby so early in the Olympics – it helped to get it done and dusted.
The opening games
We were very polished and professional against Colombia and the girls crucially didn’t get selfish even when we were up so I could see that they were focused on what we were trying to get out of the game. The Fiji scoreline was flattering – they are a great team and a few calls went our way to give us momentum. We felt good at the end of day one.
The USA game is typical of sevens. One day a team might look ordinary and the next they are on fire and the USA on day two were a different team. I’d made some changes as we’d already won that pool but we came from behind to draw which showed a lot of character. For the last kick I had gotten the message on to Chloe Dalton that this important to us and to treat the kick like a gold medal winning one and she nailed it. I wasn’t worried that we hadn’t won. In six games there is always one were you aren’t at your best. We then had a gap before the quarters but we’d prepared for that. We have a detailed format where we recover eat and do some game review, have a sleep, then get up for some stimulation with a card or a board game and then have a meeting and go again. We played well under pressure in the Spain game after that.
Three tournaments mentally are always tough. Physically you’ve had more recovery so you’re in better shape but you can be trained. We’d found that at the Pacific Games so we’d talked a lot about it and put Olympic blocks into our World Series programme to try and replicate it. I don’t remember too much about the semi-final! I have great respect for John Tait and his players and we knew we were going to get a game from Canada. They are great ambassadors for our sport but we played well, did the job and at the end we knew we had a medal but didn’t need to tell each other that that wasn’t enough.
I had seen the comments from New Zealand about our physicality and I told the girls about it in the buildup. It was a bit of motivation that fell into my lap but it wasn’t a vital part of our preparation or anything. But we would have known anyway that they would want to target that part of the game and we had a fair idea of what they would bring and they did. The final whistle – well it just felt overwhelming. To see the faces of the players’ straight after and later on into the night when they looked at each other and their families, everyone was just so proud. For me to see all of the planning that had gone into it just fall into place and watch it all unfold exactly as you’d imagined was special. It’s a memory that will last forever.
I went back after the men’s tournament. It was my little boy’s birthday and I didn’t feel a need to stay on, but it’s wonderful that the girls have stayed there and celebrated with each other during what is a really special time for them. They need that and deserve it. It’s been high profile news in Australia and I’ve done a lot of media work. Partly that’s because we haven’t won as many medals as we’d expect, so the girls getting gold has been an even bigger deal but we need to maximise all the chances we get now to talk about the game. I think rugby has laid a great platform for itself in Ro and this is a great chance to grow the game.
The impact for women’s rugby.
It’s huge. We have a gold medal team now who will be great ambassadors for our game and I think rugby took the world by storm a little over there. The spirit the tournament was played in for both men and women upheld the values both of the Olympics and of rugby. We showed the world what rugby, women’s rugby and 7s is all about.
The next steps
The huge challenge for us now is to repeat our success this season. The sign of great teams with great characters is how you preform the year after a huge high and that’s what we have to focus on. In Australia we need to leverage our success and make sure our pathways are ready for growth and that the next generation are coming through.
What should change in the women’s game
I want to see more integration between the men’s and women’s World Series. The women still only have half the number of events the men have and we need more profile which we would get by playing side by side far more. I have been harping on about this to World Rugby for a while and I know it is tough logistically but it needs to happen.