The University of Adelaide Roma’s have made three changes to their side for round 2 of the Aon 7s series, to be held at Bond University on the Gold Coast this weekend.
The squad, who recorded the Roma’s best start to an Aon 7s series in round 1, are boosted by the inclusions of locals Kelly Rowe and Zara Lowe, as well as Welsh international Hannah Jones.
Jones, who brings a wealth of experience to the squad with 25 test caps for Wales in Rugby Union and 4 years on the International 7s circuit, has overcome an ankle injury to make her tournament debut for the Roma’s.
She replaces fellow international Alisha Butchers in accordance with tournament rules, whereby only two internationals may be included in a single squad each round.
Roma’s coach James O’Keefe says he is excited about the prospect of coaching Jones for the time in an Aon series fixture.
“Hannah has been working really hard and been hellbent on getting right and getting back to play, so she’s been given the all clear, but we’ll make sure we monitor her minutes, so she can come on and when she does come on, be influential,” he says.
O’Keefe says the combination between Jones and fellow Welshmen Jasmine Joyce will go some way to dictating the nature of the Roma’s offence.
“Hannah and Jas combine really well together so we are looking how they work off each other and the opportunities that they create… they were obviously named co-captains of Wales for a reason,” he says.
The coach further states the other inclusions go some way to addressing some of the Roma’s shortcomings in Brisbane.
“Zara Lee has been playing and training well all year,” he says. “We think she deserves a shot, and she’s been brought in to fix some of our weaker areas, and in training she’s done that,” he continues.
“Kelly Rowe, one of our ball players, has come into the squad to prove what she’s got… giving the players an opportunity to stake a claim for a spot in the 12 is important, especially with the home round coming up.”
O’Keefe says keeping the nucleus of the squad together from round 1 presents the side with an opportunity to build momentum off the back of their impressive performance a fortnight ago.
“Absolutely, with three changes, not too much difference in the squad, we should be looking to perform admirably in round 2 and build some momentum,” O’Keefe says.
He credits the depth of talent at his disposal in the squad and says this has helped build a competitive culture around the group, which stands them in good stead for success in both the immediate but also longer-term future.
As a consequence of this depth, picking the 13 for this weekend was something of a nightmare for O’Keefe and his fellow coaching staff.
“We’ve had to make so many hard decisions, not only last week but this week has been even harder, and a lot of quality players who do have the ability to play at this level are missing out, because we are just that competitive no,” he says.
“It would be a lot easier if they all just picked themselves!” he laughs, while acknowledging the competition amongst the squad will prove beneficial as the team strives for greater successes.
The weekend presents some obstacles for the Roma’s. Matches 1 and 2 see them play the University of Queensland and the University of New England respectively, neither of whom the side faced in round 1 of the series.
The Roma’s have been on the wrong end of past results against both opponents, something the coach says they are keen to atone for this weekend.
“Last year, we played the University of Queensland on the Gold Coast, and we went down by one try, he says. “We also played them last year in our semi-final qualifier for the gold medal match and were cut agonisingly short again, so looking for a bit of redemption there, for sure.”
“As for the University of New England, we haven’t performed well against them in the past, but we’ll see how it goes and be confident going into that one,” he continues.
The girls then face a pair of Queensland based opponents to round out their pool matches, playing hosts Bond University on Saturday afternoon and Griffith University on Sunday morning.
O’Keefe says he is happy with how the team is shaping ahead of this weekend’s event and is optimistic about the prospect of success.
“We are aiming to be in the top 4, for the semi-finals, which kick off at 10 30 am on Sunday. So, looking to secure 3 or hopefully 4 wins in the pool so we get put in prime position for Sunday the playoff games, and then we will wait and see how the results go from there,” the coach says.
In particular, he says the team are excited at the prospect of facing Griffith University again, after they were defeated by them in the final 30 seconds of opening round fixture.
“In round 1, we came agonisingly close to beating them… we reviewed how we played in that match, and we will look to approach it a little differently this time around,” he says.
In a similar vein, the coach says they have used the period between series to address areas of the Roma’s game they were not satisfied with in round 1, with a particular focus on retaining the ball.
“We just had some instances in games [in round 1] where we lost possession of the ball and we really shouldn’t have… if you lose possession 3 or 4 times that’s a half gone, so we are just looking at retaining possession through a couple of key moments of the game, and also looking at our decision making and creating opportunities for ourselves,” O’Keefe says.
Brianna Nathan has been named in the squad, but it still recovering from the injury she sustained in Brisbane. Despite her importance to the team, the coach says they will take a cautious approach to her fitness.
“Bri is a big loss [if she doesn’t get up], she plays for about 4 or 5 different players, and she been consistently one of our best when she’s been on the field, so we are giving her all the time in the world she needs. But it’s not worth risking it if she’s not 100% confident and hasn’t been cleared by medical, so we’ll have to play the waiting game on that one.”
Round 2 of the Aon series kicks off tomorrow, with all game times listed below (all times are SA times).
Game 1 v University of Queensland
Game 2 v University of New England
Game 3 v Bond University
Game 4 v Griffith University