The University of Adelaide Roma’s have made 5 changes to their squad for the final round of the Aon Uni7s series, to be held at the University of Canberra this weekend.
The Roma’s sit in equal fifth in the overall competition standings, equal on 36 points with the University of Technology Sydney, following a hat-trick of fifth place finishes in each of the first three tournaments.
A semi-final berth has eluded the side by the narrowest of margins on multiple occasions in 2019, and coach James O’Keefe says they travel to the nation’s capital hell bent on securing a well-deserved medal.
“We are obviously looking to jump into that top 4 and get a medal. The girls have been quite focussed on that all week, from getting print outs of the medals to constant reinforcement and things like that,” he says.
The team is bolstered by a swag of returning stars, and O’Keefe feels these inclusions could be the catalyst for the sides highest finish of the 2019 series.
“The girls want to finish on a high like everyone else does, but I think we have a real opportunity to do that with the players coming back in.”
The squad’s inclusions are highlighted by the return of Rio Gold Medalist Vani Pelite, who re-joins the side following her Australian commitments at the World Series. Many of Pelite’s Australian teammates will return for their respective side for the Canberra round, and O’Keefe says this is a positive for the overall standard of the competition.
“The Aussie girls coming in completely changes the dynamic and moments of individual brilliance will win you games… so we’ve changed the way we prepare for teams with that in mind,” he says.
“We are hoping Vani does get her hands on the ball quite a lot and we can take advantage of having her in the team.”
The coach also highlighted his excitement at the potential combination between Pelite and her fellow Australian representative, Mahalia Murphy.
Other inclusions are co-captain Ellie Kanopka, Alice Gregory and Lauren Meyer, who all missed round 3 with concussion, along with highly touted Welsh international Alisha Butchers. The quartet add vast poise and experience to the side.
The strength of the inclusions is offset to a degree by the loss of Welsh try scoring sensation Jasmine Joyce. Whilst acknowledging the Roma’s will miss her enormously, O’Keefe feels they have the personnel to cover her loss and says he is excited about the opportunity it presents to other players.
“We’re certainly losing a bit without her, wont lie, but we certainly back the players we have to create opportunities… we’ve changed up how we are attacking to a degree [to cover Joyce] and we are confident in that,” he says.
Joyce is joined on the sideline by co-captain d’Arcy Sadler, who has succumbed to a hamstring injury sustained during round 3 in Adelaide. She may not be able to influence the play on the field in round 4, but she still has an integral role to play in the Roma’s success in Canberra.
“She will be replacing our assistant coach Troy Doughty who is over in Japan for the world cup. d’Arcy will be switching shirts and putting on the official hat, probably to give the girls a different insight and a different voice,” O’Keefe says.
Fresh heading into the last round of a long campaign, with the coaching staff making some adjustments to training in an effort to ward off fatigue at the end of a long campaign. This included drafting in 2018 assistant coach and former Aussie 7s player Jack Curtin to assist in training. O’Keefe feels these changes have contributed to a near ideal build up for the weekend.
The Roma’s play in the opening fixture of the weekend against the home side, the University of Canberra. Following a semi-final appearance in round 3, and a strong home round last year, the coach says the hosts will have to contend with a weight of expectation from their buoyant home crowd.
“They performed pretty well at home last year, so pressure is on them to back that up,” he says.
“They’ve got the inclusion of Sharni Williams, one of the Aussie 7s player who tore us up in round 1, so we will be making sure she is marked. But they will be without their other Aussie rep, Yasmin Meaks, so a bit of balance there. So hopefully start our campaign well against our hosts.”
The Roma’s then face round 3 champions the University of Sydney, who comprehensively outplayed them a fortnight ago to defeat them 24-0. O’Keefe says the girls are excited at the prospect of atoning for their below-par performance against this opponent in their home round.
“We’ve done a lot of review on that and looked at our key moments which mattered, and they are very simple and easy fixes so we are going in with a good headspace against them, and we’ll be looking to start strongly and go 2 from 2,” he says.
The girls have a round 3 bye before they finish day 1 against the University of Melbourne, who they are yet to lose to in 2019. They open day 2 against the University of Western Australia, a team that O’Keefe says the Roma’s will attempt to break down in a slightly different manner.
“Sunday morning, we come up against University of Western Australia, I think our team underestimated them a little bit in Adelaide and they got 3 quick tries in the first 3 or 4 minutes, which really killed us… we’ve got a slightly different approach against those guys this time around.”
After three consecutive fifth place finishes, the coach says the entire squad is firmly fixated on semi-final qualification.
“We’re obviously looking to place top 2 in the pool, so 3 wins out of 4 is the goal. But like round 3, we expect a lot of tight matches and for and against is going to matter as well, so we have to keep that in the back of our minds and stay close in all matches,” O’Keefe says.
“If we get in that top 4, we’ll just let the girls forge their own pathways in the finals, and a top 4 finish I’d be more than happy with, and anything else is a bonus.”
Round 4 of the Aon Uni7s is in Canberra this weekend, with the Roma’s times listed below. All kick off’s are listed in Australian Central Daylight Savings time.
Game 1 vs University of Canberra
Kick-Off: Saturday 26 October, 8 30 am.
Game 2 vs University of Sydney
Kick-Off: Saturday 26 October, 10 50 am.
Game 3 vs University of Melbourne
Kick-Off: Saturday 26 October, 2 30 pm.
Game 4 vs University of Western Australia
Kick-Off: Sunday 27 October, 8 50 am.
Kick-Off: Sunday 27 October from 10 30 am.
Kick-Off: Sunday 27 October from 12 30 pm.