Bottles were popped on the Gold Coast as Australia’s newest rugby sevens stars tended to unfinished business in the Commonwealth Games on the other side of the world.
A 22-12 defeat of Fiji in the gold medal game in Coventry, just outside of host city Birmingham, on Sunday night erased the pain of an extra-time loss to New Zealand four years earlier.
It came after their rousing defeat of the Kiwis in the semi-final the night before and a pool game loss to Fiji that could have upended their campaign altogether.
Mainstays Sharni Williams, Demi Hayes and Charlotte Caslick were again among the best of a side that burst onto the scene with gold at the sport’s Olympic debut in 2016.
But in Levi sisters Maddison and Teagan, as well as grand final try-scorers Faith Nathan and Madison Ashby, a new wave showed this year’s world champions were surging towards Paris 2024.
The men’s team settled for fourth place, losing 26-12 to New Zealand in the bronze-medal game. But they watched the women in awe. “It’s freaking amazing,” said Josh Turner. “The girls are incredible. They’re the best team in the world.”
Maddison scored 10 tries in five games, including a hat-trick against New Zealand that was sealed by an assist from her sister.
Lured out of an AFLW contract with hometown Gold Coast by Rugby Australia last year, the 19-year-old guessed her parents would be enjoying the moment.
“Mum had a bottle of champagne ready at 6am,” she said. “She was ready to celebrate and I think she’ll be celebrating all day … mum dad, all our friends and family came around to watch so I’m sure she’ll be on it all day.
“I don’t know if I can say [what they said] on camera; they were definitely happy. There were tears of joy. It was a pretty emotional rollercoaster.
“They’ve been with us through the highs and lows and to have two kids standing on that podium is pretty awesome. They definitely had tears. But lots of swearing, I can confirm.”
Williams, 33, was almost lost for words attempting to sum up their latest achievement.
“You look at Australian women’s sport right now, there’s so much competition for different sports,” she said. “But winning a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games or going to the Olympics, that’s what’s enticing players to come and play rugby.
“[Levi] in just her first season, imagine with some time and exposure, where she can get to.”
Coach Tim Walsh returned to the program after a stint with the men and was happy to see them play fearlessly after losing to Fiji in the pool stage.
“The team ran out today knowing they weren’t going to lose,” he said. “That’s a big step for the team; to go out with that feeling is something you can remember and replicate.”