Gold medal duo return for Sydney Sevens
RUGBY UNION: Olympic champions Australia have received a boost on the eve of the Sydney Sevens, with gold medal winning duo Ellia Green and Alicia Quirk declared fit to make their World Series returns.
Green returns from a knee reconstruction that she underwent last April while Quirk is fit again after an ankle injury ruled her out of the season opener in Dubai last December.
Australia sit atop the World Series ladder following victory in Dubai, where the Olympic champions put a frustrating season behind them - where they failed to win a tournament stage - to take out the first stage of the 2017-18 series, beating USA 34-0 in the final.
Tim Walsh's side are out for redemption on home soil following a fourth-place finish in the corresponding fixture last year, and are in Pool A alongside France, Spain and Papua New Guinea.
Walsh, who announced earlier this month that 2018 will be his final season with the Australian women's side, said that the returning duo were welcomed additions.
"Ellia and Alicia are two really important players for us and they have worked incredibly hard to be fit and available as soon as physically possible,” Walsh said.
"Ellia has shown time and time again that she's a world class finisher and watching her in full flight is great for the game. Alicia manages tournaments and matches so well.
"She is one of the most intelligent rugby players on the circuit and has been a real backbone of the team for five years.
"We were pleased with many aspects of round one and it has set a great platform for the season.”
Australia last year crashed out at the semi-final stage of their maiden home tournament.
After appearing unflappable during their World Series victory and golden Olympic run in 2016, the favourites tag appeared to weigh heavily on Walsh's side as the passes failed to stick.
Walsh accepted blame for the performance, saying he brought the team back too soon after their Olympic glory, but added that the team had come out the other end of their toughest season yet and were better for the experience.
"Personally, as a coach, I brought them back too quickly after Rio and we were still mentally very fatigued and we dragged along for the rest of the season,” Walsh said as the team looks to make amends in this year's Sydney Sevens, starting on Friday.
"Then there was just different motivational aspects in dealing with different pressures and it was all new and that was what was so challenging about it.
"Trying to leverage what we had done to grow the game and make sure it was left in a stronger position, which I think we did.
"So it was a balance of putting in performance and making sure we had a balance of dealing with the expectations, media awareness and then dealing with the game, so it's all those different things.
"But in reality we weren't at our fittest, we weren't at our strongest, we weren't at our leanest and that's all down to our work ethic, so we didn't go as hard as we did into Rio or the previous four years and that was the kick up the arse that we needed.
"But we're now hitting those personal bests.
"We're a better team than what we were pre-Rio.”
Australia: Shannon Parry (c), Sharni Williams (c), Georgina Friedrichs, Dominique du Toit, Emma Tonegato, Evania Pelite, Charlotte Caslick, Cassie Staples, Emma Sykes, Alicia Quirk, Emilee Cherry, Ellia Green.