Pearls shine in rugby sevens road to Rio

They are Australia’s newest Olympic team and they’re already on track for Rio gold.

The Pearls, the women’s rugby sevens squad, will enter the 2016 Games as gold medal favourites after easily claiming the world series title in France.

The team of talented athletes, first brought together from a variety of sports in 2012, won three of the five world series tournaments to become the first country besides arch-rival New Zealand to win the crown.

A 35-0 quarterfinal thrashing of Spain sealed the season-long success, the first time an Australian team – men or women – have claimed a sevens world series.

The Pearls will now travel to Rio in August as Australia’s best hopes of a team gold with the world champion men’s hockey side, the Kookaburras.

The pressure will be on to deliver but coach Tim Walsh says his team will lap it up.

“Nothing really fazes this group – they’re a class bunch of players,” he said.

“I really think we can handle the pressure.”

Three of Australia’s stars – Charlotte Caslick, Shannon Parry and Emma Tonegato – were selected in the seven-strong team of the series.

Although Australia fell to Canada in Monday morning’s final (AEST) in Clermont, their 14-5 semifinal victory over NZ underlined their No.1 ranking and Rio favouritism.

While the Pearls had won the first three tournaments, Kiwi coach Sean Horan had continually said his defending champions were resting and trialling players in the build-up to Rio.

In Clermont, Horan essentially had his best team but they were unable to crack the Pearls until the game was over at 14-0 with a bare minute to play.

“Going to the Olympics, we’ve got to be realistic about that,” he admitted. “We’ll go back with a little bit of a bitter taste in our mouth.”

While rugby is a religion in the Shaky Isles, Australia had far more work to attract talented players when sevens was admitted to the Olympics.

The ARU scouted players from rugby, league and touch football and invited athletes from all other sports to try their hand in 2011-12.

The talent identification program has come up trumps with the current squad representatives from rugby 15s, touch, basketball and athletics.

Olympic inclusion has provided a massive boost to the sport and Wagga-bred touch convert Alicia Quirk hopes the Pearls can be popular pioneers to grow the code further.

“We’re quite a diverse group and we all got thrown into the mix three or four years ago and have been working towards this dream since then,” she said.

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