The Roma’s have been incredibly fortunate to supplement their local talent with the exploits of three internationals in this year’s Aon Uni 7s series. Each hailing from Wales, close friends Jasmine Joyce, Alisha Butchers and Hannah Jones have brought a wealth of talent and experience to the squad. All three were involved in their country’s sevens program at last year’s Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast and have also previously been a part of Wales Six Nations and Rugby World Cup campaigns. In addition, Jasmine played in the inaugural Olympic Rugby Sevens competition of in Rio 2016, the only member of the team GB to come from outside England. The trio made the initial approach to coach James O’Keefe about being involved with the program with the hope of developing their individual games through engaging in competition of high standard, in unfamiliar conditions. We caught up with the girls to find out how they have enjoyed their time in Adelaide.
Joyce’s glittering array of career highlights to date are punctuated by her involvement with Team GB at the Rio Olympics. As the team made a strong run to ultimately miss the medal placings by a single match, Joyce became the first (and to date only) Welsh female to score a try at an Olympics. For Joyce, it is an obvious career highlight.
“It was unbelievable,” she says.
“You don’t think you are going to get opportunities like that, especially coming from such a small country, not many people go to the Olympics, so it was such an amazing experience.”
An Olympian at just 20, it is obvious that Joyce is an athlete of high standards, with continual improvement her goal. To that end, the opportunity to come over to Australia for 3 months of full-time rugby was one which she jumped at.
“The standard is obviously a lot higher than at home. In Wales, there is no club Sevens, you just go straight to international,” Joyce says.
“We only have 2 tournaments a year. Out here, we’ve already had 6 tournaments and obviously this weekend to go. No wonder the Aussie team is the best in the world, even their club level is almost as good as out international set up.”
One significant factor in the exceptional standard is the presence of many Australian and International players. Joyce says testing themselves against players of this level is extremely important for her and her countrywomen.
“It’s good, there’s a lot of the Australian team that are playing … it’s so good to be able to test ourselves against them.”
The speedy winger and centre’s returns in the opening three rounds were truly exceptional. She was comfortably the Roma’s leading try-scorer, and her contribution was punctuated by numerous dashing length of the field tries.
“It’s been sick,” she laughs. “It’s been a great experience both personally and for the team. We were unfortunate a couple of times not to make top four just by 1 game, but apart from that to play with the team was really good, we’ve played some unbelievable rugby in patches.”
She is at pains to highlight the merits of her teammates, and stresses how well the entire squad has bonded, leaving them well prepared for the future. Her clear happiness with her experience to date is further highlighted by the fact that she is sharing it with Jones and Butters.
“I met them both through Rugby at ages 15-16, ever since then we have gotten on really well,” she says.
“Coming out here with two of your best friends is something you don’t think you are going to do, and it’s pretty amazing.”
With the Tokyo Olympics under 12 months away, Joyce expects the Australian experience will have not only her, but all three girls, primed to compete for a spot in team GB’s squad.
“England have qualified for us [Team GB], and I presume a few of us will be asked up to trial,” she says.
“In an ideal world, us three and a few other girls would be asked up… it would be incredible to experience that with them.”
Butchers possesses an equally long and distinguished list of career achievements, of which she considers the 2017 Rugby World Cup with Wales to be her personal favourite to date. She says that the opportunity to travel across the world and commit to a full-time rugby training program will benefit her game enormously, and is a dream come true. Such an experience is further sweetened through sharing it with two of her very close friends. She shares long standing relationships with both Joyce and Jones, forged and developed through a shared passion for Rugby. She and Jones have been friends since their pre-teenage years.
“I’ve got a couple of pictures of me and Hannah on the field together when we were about 12 or 13, we’ve basically been friends ever since,” she says.
“We went to rival schools, and used to compete in all sports- hockey, netball- not just rugby, and we have just gotten on from there really.”
She and Joyce became better acquainted through shared lifts to representative Rugby trainings, and the pair soon forged a similarly close connection. The only minor hiccup in their otherwise strong relationship came off the back of Joyce’s Olympic selection in 2016.
“I did message Jas when she went to the Olympics, being a friend, wishing her good luck and saying how it was a great opportunity for her… read and ignored!” Butchers laughs.
“Big time Olympian, and she stops replying,” she continues, in a clear effort to wind her friend up.
“Friends, no more,” quips Joyce in response, as all three girls burst into laughter. It is clear there is a good sense of humour in their relationship, and interactions of this nature are indicative of this fact. Another quality the girls share is a desire to continue to hone their respective skills, and Butchers says being involved with the Roma’s goes a long way to achieving that.
“Having players with Aussie experience… playing with high standard players like that, in training as well, week in week out, has helped develop us,” she says.
Butchers also feels that the volume of representative players around the group has contributed greatly to elite preparation standards across the board.
“I think that’s the advantage that we’ve got over other teams, we are quite close and quite connected… it’s come together really well.”
Away from the pitch, she says she is enjoying the Adelaide lifestyle and is feeling very much at home.
“I love it out here, its really cool,” she says.
“It’s quite chilled compared to the other cities in Australia, which is good because we are quite chilled our people really. Where we live back home is a rural area, and so I feel like I fit in pretty well here, its like home.”
Having won 25 caps for the Welsh Rugby Union team, and spent 4 years on the international Sevens circuit, Jones brings considerable experience to the Roma’s set up. Unfortunately, injury prevented her from showcasing her talents in the opening tournament, but she returned to play a crucial role in the Gold Coast, Adelaide and Canberra legs of the competition. She has been impressed by how the team has performed on a consistent basis.
“Great efforts from the girls so far… they’ve played really well. Fifth three times in a row and slightly better with forth in the last tournament, so consistent.” she says.
Jones is exceptionally credentialed in terms of leadership, having captained them for the past two seasons (she shared the captaincy with Joyce in 2018). She says the leadership group of the Roma’s squad are doing a terrific job and following their lead has helped developed her own style.
“Its quite nice to learn off different captains. We’ve got Lauren Potter, who is most experienced player, and I’ve learnt a lot off her and the way she comes across to the team,” she says.
“Then you’ve got your other two captains, who lead the way really well. It’s cool, I’ve never come across a set up like this… I’ve always been captain or co-captain.”
In the absence of any official leadership role, Jones says she is relishing taking on a mentoring role with some of the less experienced players in the squad.
“There’s a few players in the development squad we’ve taken under our wing, trying to help them out through training… they are loving it,” Jones says.
“It was great to see some of the younger players compete against some of the Australian girls and be just as good as them, if not better.”
Jones says that the style of Rugby being played out here is very similar to what the girls are used to at home. However, Australia’s higher temperatures have taken a lot of getting used to.
“A few times it’s been so hot, and it took us a fair while to get used to those conditions,” she says. She further states that this can be a considerable impediment to recovery between each game, particularly when you account for the frenetic speed at which the game is played.
The girls have been working extremely hard on their fitness to counteract this and have turned to new methods to assist.
“Heat training is a massive factor for us,” she says. “We are not used to the weather, and we have to train in the heat to get used to the heat.”
“We’ve started hot yoga, Pilates, all the classes really… we’ve started boxing, anything we can do to help our fitness and deal with the conditions is important.”
Written by Nicholas Maegraith