We caught up with Gold Medallist, pioneer and Rugby Union Sevens player of the year Charlotte Caslick ahead of her attempt to put Australia back on top of the sevens ladder.
21-year-old Australian sevens halfback Charlotte Caslick has the world at her flying feet, being named the International Women’s Rugby Sevens Player of the Year in 2016 and starring in Australia winning Gold at the Rio Olympics, beating nemesis New Zealand in the Gold Medal match. Charlotte was the standout player of the Olympic Games Women’s Sevens Rugby Tournament scoring seven tries including an all important, game-changing one in the final.
With all women’s footy codes here in Australia now attracting unprecedented levels of popularity and media coverage, rugby sevens boasts a global series that provides players like Charlotte a wonderful career opportunity, what with the 2017 HSBC International Series, the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast next year, the Sevens World Cup and the 2020 Olympic Games in Japan.
“I am so lucky with how women’s sevens rugby has grown in popularity and standing on the world stage,” Charlotte says. “It really is a great honour to play at this level with my teammates.”
2017 presents a dilemma for Charlotte and her sevens team mates, as their Sevens World Series clashes with the Women’s 15-a-side World Cup. While a few of her teammates have expressed a desire to play in the 15s Women’s World Cup, at this stage Charlotte has decided not play as she wants to keep focused on the Sevens World Series.
Two clear heroes have influenced her career markedly. “There is only one true champion footy player and that is Johnathan Thurston… The ultimate warrior, the last line of defence for the Cowboys and there to run down anyone in order to stop a try.”
Now, while the Women’s and Men’s Annual World Sevens Series is a party in the stands with dress ups and plenty of celebrating, out on the field it is agony and a lung buster. Despite being 7 minutes a half and 14 minutes a game, every player is attacking and defending at full speed and when each team may have to play up to three games a day and six over two days, there is nothing left in the tank at the end.
Charlotte knows the pain: “If it’s hot and humid you literally run out of breath and in Seven’s, its one on one tackling, which drains and hurts you. The breakdowns require the speed and muscle of a flanker, and if you get in the clear with the ball under your arm, you may have to sprint up to 50 or more metres to score and that can be excruciating to maintain your speed.”
However, Charlotte has been fortunate in learning to hang on to her running effort when the body is yelling to stop.
First of all she was born with speed and was born to run, which is the number one asset in sevens rugby. Second, Charlotte is lucky to possess a big motor where she can keep feeding the muscles when the conscious mind wants you to stop. Third, Charlotte grew up an athlete training for and running in two of the most demanding of all events: the 400m and the 800m. Anyone who has competed in these events at an elite level knows what a lung buster these two are. With the 400m, competitors hit the wall at the 300m mark and the final 100m is a battle of wills.
Try running 400m in less than a minute and you will find out.
The 800m can be even more of a mind body struggle if the pace is hot early, and again the finishing sprint can be overwhelming. So you could say Charlotte learned to master the physical and mental demands of sevens rugby through her athletic career which undoubtedly has helped her become a champion sevens player: “You have to shut down the mind and concentrate on maintaining your physical running style and effort right to the end.”
While our women’s sevens team did not win the Sydney Sevens held recently, they are determined to regain their dominance at Las Vegas in March: “We aim to get back on top and show the world what we are capable of.”
So where did sport start with Charlotte? She grew up in Corinda, a suburb just south of the Brisbane River, and along with her two brothers, touch footy became a regular test series in the backyard and down at the local park. Charlotte’s speed and stamina soon came to the fore and she saw her future in athletics. She won the national primary schools 800m title before taking up touch footy in high school. Meanwhile her brothers were being persuaded by Dad to play Rugby League as this had been his sport. A funny thing happened when Dad took Sam, one of Charlotte’s brothers, to his first game of Rugby League. At the ground, Sam refused to get out of the car. He wanted to play Rugby Union and subsequently did and this one event would have a profound effect on Charlotte’s sporting future.
In her teens, Charlotte started playing comp touch footy, and her natural speed and talent was noticed by Rugby scouts. This, combined with the fact she regularly watched Sam play Rugby, and it wasn’t long before Charlotte landed a sevens contract with the ARU. The rest is history, and Charlotte has gone on to be Australia’s number one weapon in attack and the go to player when something has to be done to get home a winner.
Talking of history, Charlotte has two clear heroes who have influenced her career markedly, and they are two fellow Indigenous champions; one from Athletics and one from Rugby League: “Cathy Freeman inspired me to pursue athletics in her pet event the 400m and I will never forget her Olympic Gold winning performance at the Sydney Olympics. Her ability to maintain her technique, an even stride and her speed while keeping her head still all the way down the final straight was unbelievable. That was confidence and belief in action.”
And the footy player?
“There is only one true champion footy player and that is Johnathan Thurston. He has amazing composure under pressure, and the way he unpicks a defence, keeps them guessing and plays the ultimate unselfish game setting up his teammates is amazing to watch. Few people also realise that in defence, Johnathan is the ultimate warrior. He is always cover defending, always the last line of defence for the Cowboys and there to run down anyone in order to stop a try.”
So apart from having the heart of Phar Lap, what is the secret to winning sevens rugby games? For Charlotte there is one simple answer: “Maintaining possession is the key. If you have the ball you are a chance of scoring and the opposition are out of the game. This is why teams are prepared to go backwards with the ball. They are not retreating but merely waiting for an opportunity to break the opposition’s line and score.”
The Women’s and Men’s Annual World Sevens Series, out on the field, is agony. Despite being 7 minutes a half and 14 minutes a game, every player is attacking and defending at full speed and when each team may have to play up to three games a day and six over two days, there is nothing left in the tank at the end.
In that all-important Gold Medal match against New Zealand at the Rio Olympics, Charlotte claims the tactics employed by coach Tim Walsh really helped them win: “Tim had us in a great frame of mind and importantly we mentally got on top of them right from the kick-off, which meant as time ticked by, they were the ones feeling the pressure because of our physicality, and the moves we put on in attack resulted in tries.”
Charlotte scored in the first half and the team seemed to grow extra legs as they came home in the second half to win the Gold Medal for Australia 24 to 17.
“We all have Tim to thank for his wonderful preparation, he really is a smart coach and also if any doubt crept into our minds, teammate Shannon Parry let us know in no uncertain terms who was going to win that day. She really fires us up.”
While our women’s sevens team did not win the Sydney Sevens held recently, they are determined to regain their dominance at the next HSBC World Series event in Las Vegas in March: “We aim to get back on top and show the world what we are capable of.”
Watch out for 21-year-old Charlotte Caslick, the woman in gold who has the heart of a lion, the lungs to endure all sorts of pain and speed to burn to ensure our Australian women’s sevens rugby team continues to cover itself in glory.