University Sevens 2.0 to have distinct international feel
AON University Sevens series two will have a distinctly international feel when it kicks off in Hobart on Saturday, with players from around the world representing 10 of Australia's universities in the nationwide women's competition.
University of Queensland's Jannicke Ijdens, from the Netherlands, and University of Canberra's Abby Gustaitis, from the United States, are just two of the many women who've travelled to Australia to play in the growing competition.
In one of the more unique journeys to the series, Ijdens grew up in the north of the Netherlands where she made it to the national level in track and field, and bobsled, before a traumatic crash drove her away from the sport. Only months later, a passing comment from a friend saw her fall into rugby and start her sevens journey.
"I started with track and field and then I moved to bobsledding and made the national team, but then I swapped over to rugby," Ijdens said. "I made it to the national team and played a couple of World Series and European championships. I actually got the chance to come to Australia in 2014 to play for an invitational team 'the tribes', and from that the coach for UQ asked me to play in last year's series and I loved it. I said straight away that I'm in again."
After tasting success with UQ in the competition's inaugural season, the 30-year-old was hooked.
"It's so professional. I played a couple of World Series and European championships, but this is nearly the same. It feels like I'm on a World Series. Everything is so professional; the facilities; the food and all the recovery.
"I think this year is going to be better than last year. There [are] extra rounds, everyone's training earlier and there's more planning. The hits are going to be harder; it's going to be tougher, everyone's getting quicker and the game is getting faster. It's going to be so much better."
With a distinctly international flavour throughout the tournament, Ijdens believes more players from around the world will look to head Down Under in the future.
"The competition definitely has an international feel, even if you look at the Bond [University] team; they've got a couple of Ireland girls as well," Ijdens tells ESPN. "Everyone is talking about it, especially because of Facebook and the live stream; it makes people excited and it's a really good preparation before the World Series as well. For those girls it's almost like a little bit of a preseason. They play a couple of games and then they go into a World Series, and for other girls who want to develop, it's a great pathway."
It's a similar story for American Gustaitis who randomly fell into the game through a friend at university. After playing basketball her whole life, Gustaitis said she was drawn into rugby sevens by the sport's body contact.
"It was completely random, my friend said she was going to rugby training and I'd never even heard of it but I went for it and never looked back," Gustaitis tells ESPN. "I fell in love with the game immediately...I found sevens a couple of years later and was just so passionate about it and just loved the game."
Having also featured in last year's inaugural season, Gustaitis is expecting the level of play to increase in 2018.
"We got to play with and against some of the best, it really just grows the game but also grows you as an individual and sets you up for success," she says.
"It's exciting that rugby sevens can bring all these women from around the world together and just share something we're passionate about. It's exciting for Australian rugby that so many other people from around the world want to come down and play in this competition. It shows a lot of respect for the AON series."