Women’s rugby unearths Pearls for Rio

They’re not playing for the big silverware and there are no household names among them, but Australia’s classy, yet unheralded, women’s sevens rugby team will capture the imagination and plenty of hearts at the Sydney 7s.

Unlike their higher-profile male counterparts, the Pearls are odds-on to win a medal at this year’s Rio Olympics and have already shown this season they are front-runners for gold.

The Pearls sit on top of the world series standings after winning the opening tournament in Dubai and will showcase their skills and power in a three-game series this weekend against Ireland.

Coach Tim Walsh says his team, well used to flying under the radar, is savouring the rare chance to play in front of a big, home crowd at Allianz Stadium.

“It’s awesome, and that’s the battle for them – changing perception of what people think, or even making perception of what people think, of women’s rugby sevens,” he told AAP.

“These guys are Olympians in terms of their professionalism. They’re fit, they’re strong, they’re lean and very entertaining and very highly skilled.

“A lot of people who haven’t seen them will be very surprised by seeing what these girls can do in showcasing their sport.”

Walsh, a former Australian men’s sevens player, will give game time to 15 of his 20-strong squad in the three matches, while resting five injured troops, including captain Sharni Williams (knee).

He fully expects they will feed off the buzz of the sellout crowd.

“The girls do perform well in front of big crowds,” he said. “All the tournaments we’ve won have been at the bigger stadiums in front of the bigger crowds.”

Walsh is also the brains behind a ‘Classic Sevens’ exhibition match between Queensland and NSW which will feature former Wallabies captain Nathan Sharpe in his sevens ‘debut’ and Lote Tuqiri playing his first rugby match for Queensland.

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