Wednesday’s Rugby News looks at a women’s sevens superstar returning for Sydney, Toomua’s eagerness for the Wallabies flyhalf position, a former Wallaby links up with the men’s sevens side and Henry Speight dealing with his return to Canberra as a Red.
Charlotte’s coming back
The Australian women’s team is set to welcome back several big names for the Sydney Sevens, none bigger than superstar Charlotte Caslick.
Caslick returns after missing the last three tournaments due to a hamstring injury, with coach John Manenti expecting her to be ready to go.
“I’m expecting Charlotte will be ready to go,” he said.
“We just got off a plane but I’ll put my eyes over her at training this week and I’m expecting her to be ready to go.
“It will be great to have her back, she’s such a unique player in what she can bring, the threat she brings.
“Once she starts taking that ball forward at first receiver everyone starts going with her. And then also has the skills to catch and pass under pressure, which is really valuable.”
Along with this, co-captain Shannon Parry will return after missing the Hamilton leg due to suspension.
This ensures that the defending gold medalists are near full strength with Emilee Cherry returning after her pregnancy and Chloe Dalton scheduled to return later in the year from something even more painful than childbirth: having to play AFL.
Manenti is well aware that this along with their history of success in Sydney will add to the pressure on his side, believing that they should embrace it with the Olympics on the horizon.
“If they’re talking to that stuff now, you can imagine it’s going to be tenfold come Tokyo so it’s a great way to see how we’re going to respond to that pressure and that kind of scrutiny from people,” he said.
“People do have high expectations of this team and the team have earned that over time,” he said.
“We’re working towards where we want to be and some tournaments we’ve shown big strides and some have been less towards that.
“Sydney’s different – Sydney’s almost a standalone event for us and I want the public to expect us to win it because I want our girls to expect to win it and to do that we’ve got to believe that we can.
“I know they’ve got it in them and I know they believe they’ve got it in them so It’s a matter of turning up out at Bankwest and putting out a good performance.”
Toomua ready to take ten
Melbourne Rebels fly-half Matt Toomua is spurred on by the thoughts of grabbing the vacant flyhalf position for the Wallabies as he prepares to lead the Rebels to a maiden Super Rugby finals berth.
The departures of Lealiifano, Foley and Cooper has Toomua in the prime position to become the leading man in Australian rugby when Dave Rennie announces his first squad.
Despite this, Toomua is well-aware of the young talent that is set to light up the competition and refused to declare himself a certain starter come July.
“A few (Wallabies) incumbents have gone so there’s definitely an opportunity there but in saying that there’s a lot of good 10s around the country,” Toomua said.
“There’s a lot of excitement in Australian rugby for a few reasons and that’s probably one of them.
“First, I’ve got to play well here at Rebels and keep the 10 here but you know I’m not that naive to think there’s not an opportunity there.
“It’s obviously a goal of mine as I’m sure it is for the Brumbies 10 and Waratahs 10 and Reds 10, but I’m looking forward to hopefully getting a shot there.”
Toomua was full of praise for the club and its recruitment policy, believing that they have adequately covered the post-World Cup brain drain.
“Credit where it’s due, I think our recruiting team have done a really good job,” Toomua said.
“A lot of the other teams are probably feeling the exodus post World Cup a bit more than we are, we’ve got a fair bit of stability there, particularly with our coaches.”
One of these recruits has been Fijian halfback Frank Lomani, who admits he needs to be more vocal and is hoping to learn off Toomua during his stay in Melbourne.
“I need to improve my game management and I need to be more aggressive with my leadership – I need to command and be bossy,” Lomani said.
“I like playing alongside Matt Toomua – he’s helped me a lot on running lines and I like how he’s so commanding.
“We’ve got a fair idea on how the (Sunwolves) play. We’ll use our big ball carriers and we have some good players like (Toomua) who can control our game.”
Morahan’s back for Sydney
Former Reds, Force and Wallabies flyer Luke Morahan has recommitted to the Sevens program, joining the squad for the Sydney Sevens with a view to be selected in the Toyko Olympic squad.
The 29-year-old is currently playing in the Premiership Rugby competition for Bristol after heading overseas following the ex-communication of the Force.
Morahan is no stranger to the sevens’ concept, having played during the 2010 Commonwealth Games, where the side won a silver medal.
“We’ve been in talks with Luke Morahan for a while and he has talked with great passion about playing for Australia again, especially at the Olympic Games,” head coach Tim Walsh said.
“We’re getting him back into the squad this week to give him an opportunity to put his hand up again for the gold jersey and see what he can contribute on and off the field.
“Bristol has been very supportive of allowing Luke to step away and chase something that he really wants to do and we thank the club for making him available for this week.”
Morahan was excited at the prospect of representing his country once again, having played three times for the Wallabies between 2012-2016.
“Potentially representing my country again is something I’ve thought about for a while, so to be able to re-join the Aussie 7s is really exciting, especially ahead of their home tournament,” he said,
“This week is really about a fact-finding mission to see if it’s going to potentially work out for both parties and I’ve been impressed with what I’ve seen from the group just today.
“It’s really going to the case of hitting the ground running with a lot to take in but I’m looking forward to getting into the hard work.”
Morahan will be a welcome addition to the squad after Ben O’Donnell was sidelined for an extended period due to a knee injury.
Speight ready for homecoming
Former Brumby and current Red Henry Speight admits that he will be emotional before taking the field against his old side on Friday.
Speight spent nine years at the Brumbies before moving up to warmer pastures and was excited to return to the nation’s capital, where he still considers to be his home.
“A little bit, I guess so. There’s nothing to shy away from there,” said Speight.
“It is home for me, Canberra, and it’s got a very special place in my heart.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for the organisation and a lot of good friends and brothers in that team.”
The 31-year-old admitted that it was a funny feeling finding out the first game was up against the Brumbies, particularly when he hadn’t moved from Canberra yet.
“The schedule came out and it was just a bit of a funny feeling seeing the first game was up against the Brumbies and back down in Canberra,” he said.
“That was weird finding out when I was still living in Canberra as well.”
Despite all these emotions, don’t expect Speight to hold back in his Super Rugby debut, believing that it would be an insult to both sets of supporters if he didn’t give his all.
“If selected, the only way to pay the biggest respect is to play the best I can against them and in front of the Canberra community and also play my part for Queensland,” he believes.
“I’ll wear the jersey with pride and pay my utmost respect to the opposition and the community by playing my best on the day.
“Anything short of that is just not going to do anyone justice.”