Commentary

Tim Walsh eyes Commonwealth Games glory as perfect send-off

Updated: March 20, 2018, 5:02 PM ET
By Sam Bruce and Brittany Mitchell

Australia women's sevens coach Tim Walsh credits a nationwide search to uncover a "point of difference" as the key to his side's success, a six-year journey he hopes to wrap up with Commonwealth Games gold.

Walsh's tenure as coach of the all-conquering Pearls will come to an end on the Gold Coast next month, when women's rugby sevens makes its debut as a Commonwealth Games sport; as such, the gold medal is the only major trophy the Australian team has not won.

Australia were Rugby World Cup Sevens champions way back in 2009, while Walsh's tenure included the first HSBC World Series crown in 2016 before the inaugural Olympic gold medal in Rio de Janeiro later that year.

But it was the beginning of a process three years prior that Walsh believes laid the foundation for those twin 2016 triumphs, and he hopes it will see them reign supreme once again, this time on home soil.

"It was like a blank canvas," Walsh tells ESPN. "I think a lot of other countries took their 15s players and turned them into sevens players, whereas we took a completely different tact. I wrote all the coaching and programs for that, so I travelled around Australia picking out different players and thinking about what our point of difference was going to be: What's our difference, where are we going to take the game?

"It [success] happened a lot quicker than we expected. I'd see these amazing athletes with huge amounts of speed but [they] had no idea about the rules, or [had] never tackled before but had great awareness. So we put them all together and we worked and worked at moulding them all together, and by early 2013, our first tournament in Dubai, we went out and won it. I thought 'geez that worked quickly' and they just sort of rolled on from there."

Matt King/Getty ImagesTim Walsh

Walsh was unveiled on Monday as the new coach of the Australia men's sevens team, a post he will take up after this year's World Series has concluded.

He could have had the men's job much earlier but decided to stick with the women's game as the task at hand was yet to be completed, and he was just enjoying it too much anyway.

"My first thoughts were 'no, I'm not doing that' and that's exactly what I said," Walsh said of the initial approach for the women's team. "But a year later they offered me a different job -- it was the coaching coordinator for sevens men's and women's -- and I did that for just under a year.

"After a period of time, they offered me the women's job and I said yes to that without any hesitation. And then within that time as well, within the four years, the men had a lot of changes within their coaching, and I was approached about coaching the men. [Walsh's decision] was 'no, we've got a job with the women's team' and the amount of enjoyment and the way I was challenged within that program, it was a no brainer [to stay].

Nigel Owen/Action Plus via Getty ImagesAustralia's Women's Sevens lift the Sydney Sevens trophy

"I was completely converted to women's rugby, women's sevens, women's contact sport, and I was very privileged to be within the role for such a long time within the team and see the success that they've got and see where they go."

Given the likes of England, Canada, Fiji and fierce rivals New Zealand will all be part of the Commonwealth Games, the Gold Coast competition will be as strong as any on the World Series circuit. But Australia will start favourites on home soil, having triumphed at this year's Sydney Sevens.

The girls will be desperate send their long-time mentor out on the perfect note, but will the man himself feel any sense of nostalgia before the final kick-off?

Matt King/Getty ImagesAustralia's Women's Sevens Commonwealth Games team

"I do, I get asked a lot, but we don't really think about it," Walsh tells ESPN. "When you ask me and I'll think 'oh yeah great', but then I'll go off to training and I'll forget about it. I don't think it'll really get emotional until the girls are on tour in Japan on the World Series and I'm back here, I think that's when it'll hit. But until then we're very much in our bubble and very much focused on what we're trying to achieve, everything else sort of gets forgotten."

Australia have been drawn with England, Fiji and Wales in Pool B at the Commonwealth Games, with only the top two teams progressing to the knockout phase.

Sam Bruce | email

ESPN Associate Editor
Sam was brought up on long drives and the dusty fields of north-west New South Wales, where he developed his love of rugby from an early age. He joined ESPNscrum after a five-year stint heading up Fox Sports Australia's digital rugby coverage.

Brittany Mitchell | email

ESPN Assistant Editor
Brittany Mitchell has been a sports fan from an early age, with a keen interest in netball, cricket and rugby. Brittany interned at Rugby Magazine and the Australian Rugby Union before joining ESPN.

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