For Nicole Beck and her Australian team-mates, it is finally starting to sink in just what they have accomplished in the last year after winning the HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series and the first Olympic Games sevens gold medal at Rio 2016.
Now in her second week of what will be a “fun” two-month pre-season as Australia prepare to begin their series title defence in Dubai on 1 December, Beck knows their achievements have been a source of inspiration to young girls across the nation.
“It’s been crazy really just how many young girls have said that they watched us and that they’re interested in playing now,” Beck told World Rugby.
“There are so many more opportunities now for girls of all ages to get involved with rugby.
“Perhaps that is the big thing that has changed recently in that there are those pathways now where there weren’t before, so it is really exciting.”
The best is yet to come
If Beck and the rest of the Australian women’s sevens programme have anything to say on it, there will be plenty more success to inspire the next generation of players with the full potential of the squad yet to be reached in her eyes.
“I suppose we’ve been building for a few years now, focusing on our game and slowly trying to improve bits and pieces that way. It has really been a build up to it. We are lucky in that we managed to peak in the right year and really bring out more of our best performances this year.
“There is definitely more to come. The team is so young. I think the average age is around 21-22.
“We’ve still got young girls in our squad who haven’t even played on the circuit or anything yet, so they have so much more to learn in themselves and there are other young girls coming in to add to the team as well.
“We’ve still got quite a young and competitive squad so there will be a lot of competition for selection for each tournament in the next series.
“We’ve got the Commonwealth Games coming up in 2018, in Australia, and that’s a big motivator as everyone wants to be playing regularly and in form because everyone wants to play in a big showcase like that on home soil.
A different person
“That will break it up and then we have the World Cup, one that doesn’t come around often and everyone wants to play in – a World Cup win is right up there. And then we have Tokyo 2020 so there is plenty to keep us busy and focused on the short-term goals.”
Beck is now one of the senior members of Australia’s sevens squad, a far cry from the days of Women’s Rugby World Cup Sevens 2009 in Dubai when she earned the nickname ‘Pup’ as the youngest member of another Australian side to write their name into the history books.
“Looking back to what I know now and the experience that I have now, I really knew nothing back then and I really did rely on my older team-mates and they did a great job of guiding me and teaching me what I needed to know,” admitted Beck.
“From what I know now to what I knew then is like two completely different people.”
Australia, led by captain Cheryl Soon, beat New Zealand in sudden death extra-time to be crowned the inaugural Women’s Rugby World Cup Sevens champions, an occasion Beck still finds difficult to put into words even seven years on.
A winning mentality
“It’s indescribable really. I suppose for me, looking up to some of our older girls who’d forever been playing 15s and this was the first opportunity for sevens and seeing exactly how much it meant to them and to know how far rugby had come and even just to know how far it could go … it was amazing to be part of that.”
A key element to that success in Beck’s eyes is that she and a number of other players had just come into sevens from touch where Australia were more dominant than New Zealand, so beating the Kiwis was nothing new, unlike in rugby where the Black Ferns were the dominant force.
“Our mentality was we know we can beat them and getting that first win over New Zealand in the Oceania qualifier I think just instilled that confidence that maybe teams in the past had been lacking. The skills were there, it was just about the confidence to show they can be just as good and do the job.”
For sevens, that was as good as it got then with Australia’s success coming seven months before the International Olympic Committee voted overwhelmingly to include sevens on the programme for the 2016 and 2020 Olympic Games.
Even after that decision, Beck couldn’t have imagined she would complete a unique double of winning the first Women’s Rugby World Cup Sevens and Olympic gold medal.
“2016 was so far away and I didn’t know what I would be doing or if I’d be physically able or skills-wise to be able to make the Olympics,” admitted Beck, who played for Australia at Women’s Rugby World Cup 2010 and took time out from the game to have her daughter Sophie, now three and the team’s ‘13th player’.
Building on the Olympics
“It is really unbelievable to look back now and see that I did make it in the end. When people put it to me that I’m an inaugural winner at the World Cup and the Olympics, it sounds pretty surreal and pretty amazing.”
A pretty amazing year for Australia and women’s rugby sevens in general, but Beck believes the sport can only grow on the back of its appearance on the Olympic stage.
“I don’t think it will be hard to top what people saw at the Olympics. There is always good quality rugby played at every tournament we play – it is just about keeping the audience watching.
“You can’t buy the type of coverage you get at an Olympics. We got sevens out there and people have realised what it is, how great a game it is and what a great spectator sport it is.
“Hopefully people will keep on watching.”