The major storyline of the 2022 Uni Sport 7s has been the rapid ascent of the Melbourne University program.
With a third placed tournament finish in Adelaide followed up with a silver medal in Newcastle, the women's team go into the final tournament desperate to stand on the final step of the winners dias.
Central to their rise has been one of Victoria's more colourful coaching characters - 'Professor' Jason Rogers.
We caught up with 'The Professor' to see how his student's were doing ahead of their final tournament in Canberra this weekend.
Rugby Victoria (RV): A third-place finish followed by a silver medal...your team has been the breakout story of the series! Did you have any idea these sorts of results were possible this season?
Jason Rogers (Prof.): Our players and coaching team are humbled by the outcomes so far in the tournaments we have played, and are grateful to be playing and coaching in a game that we all love. It’s a credit to our players, their work ethic and commitment to each other, that has really driven positive outcomes.
They love the game and have a love for each other, and are grateful to those who have allowed them the opportunity to play. This competition is tough; we have a massive respect for the other teams in the competition, as everyone has the ability to win whenever we play.
At any time you could win or lose the game depending on the bounce of the ball, or a drop in concentration from your team (so you really need to be on top of your game all the time). Our team don’t really focus on the end result, we actually spend a lot of time discussing performances, and walking off the field being proud of the performance we have just delivered each game.
RV: How have you managed to elevate the team's standings in the series so quickly? What was the focus this past offseason that saw the rapid rise?
Prof.: I wouldn’t say it’s one thing, but more a combination of things.
We are privileged to have a wonderful coaching team that genuinely care about the players (Scott, Allyssa, Lucy, Tharindu and Ben), who have really been able to lift the program this year, in their individual fields of expertise.
Having the support of other key stakeholders has been instrumental in what the team has been able to achieve to date, including the Melbourne University Rugby Club (Adrian, Nick, Mitch, Lotu, Alex and Jonathan), the University of Melbourne (Rod and Tony), and Buildcorp for their on and off field assistance in helping our team.
The players have been able to just focus on playing, as opposed to issues that may detract them from doing this, and having these people support the program is a real blessing. These key stakeholders we are so grateful for. The support of the families of the players have been instrumental this year, many family members watching from all over the world. The support of previous players that have played in this team in previous years that are currently playing all over the world, who get up early, watch the games and message the players notes of support.
It really is a wider community effort that has helped the players this year.
RV: Your team seemed to go up another gear in Newcastle. What learning's did you take out of the Adelaide tournament that you were able to implement into Newcastle?
Prof.: We learnt a lot as a group from the first tournament.
Everyone is trying to get the best out of their team (despite injuries, travel, illness etc). We are similar.
In our team we have a ‘team mantra’ that says, ‘our game is based on doing the basics consistently longer than the opposition.’ The players determined in Adelaide, that if we implemented our systems effectively, trusted each other to fulfil our core tasks, with confidence, things would be ok.
The players also have a thirst for consistently getting better. After every game you will see the whole team on their phones reviewing their individual performance against our systems. The leadership group are instrumental in leading feedback, reviews and improvements.
They will also provide feedback at halftime to share what they are seeing on the field, and what we need to fix up. But the whole team takes the responsibility of improving seriously. The whole team is a pleasure to support. These are things that we learnt from the first tournament about ourselves.
RV: There must be a lot of tired bodies in the squad after two intense tournaments...How have you amended training going into the final round of the series?
Prof.: Having two tournaments back to back (Adelaide then Newcastle) has been tough, but we can’t control the scheduling, but we can control our reaction to it.
The players are tired, but excited to try and make the travelling squad for Canberra. We have 24 members in our squad and each tournament we select a travelling 12.
No one player secures a spot for all three tournaments. We have this, so that everyone is grateful for their spot in the travelling team. The girls in the travelling 12 will play for those girls at home, and the girls at home will do training on the weekend that the travelling 12 play (the players share pictures and videos with each other).
This culture has allowed all the girls to be grateful in everything that we do. We had a pool/recovery session that ended up being swimming races (the players are super competitive), but this gave the players a mental and physical break from rugby. We have a couple of light sessions planned over the next few days to prepare for Canberra.
RV: You've got a target on your back now - How will you be evolving your game to go that one step further and claim your first tournament victory?
Prof.: In my chats with other coaches on the Uni7s circuit we have discussed how close the teams are.
Bond at the moment are the benchmark in the series, and what Setu and Lawrence have done with their girls consistently, is truly inspiring. But I think about Bindi (Canberra), Marcus (Adelaide), Dylan/Hodjo (WA), Ben (Sydney), and Stuart (Newcastle) and how all the teams just get better and better each game, and each tournament.
I have a huge respect for these coaches and their management teams. We are under no disillusion that the Canberra tournament is going to be tough (if not the toughest in the series), because everyone has had a rest and everyone is going to bring the best they can for the last tournament.
We are approaching the final tournament in Canberra with clarity, that in order for us to perform to the best of our ability, it will require, more effort and hard work, than what has been required in the first two tournaments combined. The players understand the challenge ahead, and would like to have performances that we and our loved ones can be proud of.
RV: Who for you has been the breakout player for the squad that has improved the most since the start of the campaign?
Prof.: I’m not a fan of naming players as it goes against the philosophy of our team, but what I will do is share some key informational points about the 2022 team:
- one of our squad members has trained in this program for three years and got her first opportunity to travel this year. A testament to not giving up.
- one of our squad members was in the first team in the first series of Aon 7s. We are grateful to have her. Commitment and love of the game has kept her in the program.
- two of our squad members are in the extended Wallaroos program, we are so grateful to have them in our team, as they bring experience and skills that are fantastic.
- 30% of the squad are new to rugby from other sports including athletics, AFL, Touch Rugby, Rugby League, Basketball and Soccer. We are hoping that these players stay in rugby and help support the XVs game here in Victoria.
- two squad members are still at High School, one in Year 11 and one in Year 12 and both have experienced travelling. This isn’t unique as I know most of the teams have young players, but we are proud of these two players (they are the future of 7s for us)
- 30% of the squad played Super W (one of these players as captain, and others as key players in the squad. These players leadership, support of others, work-rate, advice, commitment and vision in the game of 7s in just wonderful).
- 55% of the squad are new to our Melbourne University 7s program this year. The turnover is due to players going onto other things, eg. playing overseas etc.
- one of our squad members has AFLW and VFLW experience (winning the VFLW as captain in 2022). Her experience and input into our systems (particularly reclaiming our restarts), culture and how she conducts herself has been fantastic. We had two other ladies that were training with us that had lightning speed, high fitness levels, and aerial skills, and one got called into train and trial contracts for AFLW teams this year. We are hoping to have more AFL ladies participate in our sport over the next few years.
- two of our squad members have international 7s experience playing for Argentina and Japan, we are privileged to have them.