Sevens series set to start

Local winger, Rhiannon Byers will return for the UNE Lions this season.
Local winger, Rhiannon Byers will return for the UNE Lions this season.

After a successful inaugural tournament last year, the Australian University Sevens is back for another season. 

The University of New England is set to take on the country’s best once again with the Lions squad hitting the ground running. 

Former Australian sevens representative Ross Duncan will coach the side with last year’s coach Tom Bower moving into the program manager position.  

After reviewing last year’s season, Bower briefly touched on the unique experience for the squad playing in the national competition and how that shaped this season’s preparations.

“It is such a big jump from regional rugby 7s to a national competition against players like Charlotte Caslick and Emilee Cherry,” he said.

“Last year some of our UNE girls had never played outside of their regions, let alone in stadiums against Rio gold medallists.

“This year we wanted our players to be prepared for what is going to come at them so we have changed our preparation to include higher level match play.”

Bower is also excited about what Duncan will bring to the squad,

“Duncan has just returned from coaching the women’s Australian Uniroos to a silver medal in the World University Games,” he said.

“He was a phenomenal player and is now a national level coach. He has played at the highest level, representing Australia in rugby 7s, and is preparing the players for a top level competition. His experience is exactly what UNE needs to prepare for a gruelling national competition,”

Duncan, who graduated from UNE in 2013, will be joined by his Uniroos manager, Will Scully and NSW coach, Kieran Smith as the squad’s assistant.

According to Bower attracting this calibre of coaches to the UNE program is vital to the squad succeeding at the tournaments.

“You can already see the impact they are having on the girls, both physically and mentally. They are growing in confidence every week and top players are enquiring about how they can be involved in the program.”

The UNE Lions are bolstered by NSW Waratah representatives and Super W winners Mardi Watts and Grace Hamilton. Hamilton currently studying at UNE, recently pulled on the Wallaroos jersey to battle New Zealand in front of a packed out ANZ Stadium.

“I’m thrilled to have these players representing the Lions. I’m also vbexcited about the under 18 development players from NSW Country regions lining up to don the ‘green and black’,” Bower said.

“We had such a huge interest in the under 18s age group that we decided to expand the program to include a development team known as the UNE Cubs. The Cubs have Australian Youth representatives in the team and have a real interest to play for UNE Lions senior team in the future.”

UNE Lions will head into the first leg of the Aon Uni 7s Series this weekend against Bond University looking for a top four finish after missing the semi-finals last year.