8 August, 2016 is a date that eight players among the Women’s Rugby World Cup 2017 squads in particular will never forget for the rest of their lives.
For that was the day they wrote their names into the history books as the first women’s Olympic rugby medallists at the Rio 2016 Games where sevens made its debut.
Shannon Parry and Sharni Williams (pictured on back row, first and second left), led the newly-crowned HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series champions to Rio and that historic first gold medal after a 24-17 win over New Zealand at the Deodoro Stadium.
The pair, with Parry as captain, are now bringing their experiences on the sevens circuit and two previous Women’s Rugby World Cups to a Wallaroos squad bidding to get their Ireland 2017 campaign off to a flying start by beating hosts Ireland on Wednesday.
Four members of New Zealand’s silver medal winners are also in Ireland in Portia Woodman, sevens captain Sarah Goss, Theresa Fitzpatrick and Kelly Brazier, the latter the only one of the quartet who has already won a Women’s Rugby World Cup title back in 2010.
Canada duo Karen Paquin and Kelly Russell complete the medallists from Rio 2016, while six players who finished in perhaps the worst possible position of fourth with Great Britain are also at WRWC 2017 wearing the colours of England and Wales.
We caught up with a gold, silver and bronze medallist to look back on those momentous days in Rio.
A crazy time
“It is pretty crazy to be honest, to think that the eighth of the eighth 2016 we actually won the Olympic gold medal, it gives me goose bumps just talking about it,” admitted Parry.
“To think that was 12 months ago is crazy, time has gone so fast, our lives in Australia have been turned upside down. It is great to see the sport is developing in sevens and I think this 15s World Cup will be a huge spectacle for women’s rugby.”
Goss, who led New Zealand to their fourth series title earlier this year, remembers only too well how she felt on the day the medals were handed out 12 months ago and what representing her country on the Olympic stage meant to her.
“I was really excited, obviously being at the Olympic Games had been a dream of mine and a lot of our team for a very long time and to have worked four years in the build-up to the Games was hugely exciting as well,” admitted Goss.
“Knowing as well that on the last day we were going into a semi-final against Great Britain, which was going to be a massive challenge, it brought I suppose not just excitement but nerves as well.
“I think the whole Olympics, those three days were the biggest high of probably some of our careers and to be able to represent New Zealand, not just in sevens, but the whole New Zealand Olympic team was very special and a huge honour.
“You look at some of those athletes that have represented that team and they are the elite of the elite and to be on the same playing field was very special. The night before that last day was really exciting but also a bit of nerves going through you at the same time.”
Spain's sevens contingent
Russell, who captains Canada at WRWC 2017, added: “It has been crazy, it has been a wild year with how well we did in Rio and the outcome of that, seeing rugby grow within Canada. Karen, myself and the other girls who were involved in that sevens programme kind of went straight back into 15s so it has helped us with managing our time and energies. I’m very grateful to be back with this team and working towards this World Cup. It was a great time, but we are here to focus now on the World Cup.”
The Rio medallists, though, aren’t the only Olympians currently counting down the hours until WRWC 2017 kicks off on Wednesday with a total of 35 players having switched their focus from sevens to 15s with Spain accounting for nearly a third of them.
All bar one of Spain's 12-strong Rio 2016 squad, the captain Elisabet Martinez who missed out on selection for Ireland 2017 after a race to be fit following injury, and the likes of Patricia Garcia, Barbara Pla and Maria Ribera are sure to be key figures for Las Leonas when they begin their campaign against defending champions England at UCD Bowl on Wednesday.
Great Britain finished in the place no-one wants to finish at the Olympics in fourth after losing the bronze medal match to Canada. Team GB captain Emily Scarratt is joined by Olympians Natasha Hunt, Katy Mclean, Danielle Waterman and Amy Wilson-Hardy in the England squad with all bar the latter attempting to win back-to-back Women’s Rugby World Cup titles after the Red Roses’ success in 2014.
The other member of Team GB at WRWC 2017 is Welsh winger Jasmine Joyce, the only non-English player in that Rio 2016 squad.
Camille Grassineau may not have left Rio de Janeiro with a medal in her luggage but her name will still forever be associated with the Olympics, the French back having the honour of scoring the first rugby sevens try in Olympic history, in the opening match against Spain on 6 August, 2016. Grassineau, called up to the WRWC 2017 squad last month after Jessy Tremouliere lost her battle with injury, is one of six French players in Rio to now be attempting to win a first Women's Rugby World Cup crown for Les Bleues, the others being Eloide Guiglion, Shannon Izar, Caroline Ladagnous, Jade Le Pesq and Marjorie Mayans.
France's opening opponents at WRWC 2017 are Japan and they boast two Olympians in their squad in Aya Nakajima and Ayaka Suzuki, while Alev Kelter and Jessica Javelet played for USA, the former realising her Olympic dream only two years after missing out on a place in the USA Ice Hockey team for Sochi 2014 Winter Games.
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