AAP Rugby

Cherry boosts Australian sevens hopes

By AAP Newswire

All eyes will be on returning Olympic star Emilee Cherry when Australia try to end their two-year winless drought at the women's sevens world series in Hamilton.

New Zealand's first staging of a tournament on the women's circuit provides the backdrop for the return of new mother Cherry, one of the key figures when Australia snatched gold at the 2016 Rio Games.

Injuries and the birth of daughter Alice seven months ago have robbed the Australians of a dynamic match-winner, whose return has come earlier than anticipated for captain Sharni Williams.

"We didn't push her to come back but we know Cherry's like. She's a determined country girl who thrives on expectations," Williams said.

"She's a changed person - having a baby does that for you. Having her back in the team just adds another element."

A former world sevens player of the year, Cherry scored 128 tries in her 29 world series tournaments.

Her most recent appearance was at Paris 19 months ago, when her last-gasp try in Australia's semi-final win over France clinched their second series crown.

It is further back still since Australia last won a tournament - the Sydney leg in January 2018.

They've become accustomed to runners-up finishes, including in two of the three legs this season, in Cape Town and in Glendale, Colorado.

Second overall behind New Zealand, Williams is setting no target this weekend aside from improvements, six months out from the Tokyo Olympics.

There is a sudden-death nature to the men's and women's tournaments after organisers removed the quarter-finals.

The shortened schedule, which mirrors the Commonwealth Games format, will also be employed at next week's tournament in Sydney.

Williams' team are likely to see off pool opponents Brazil and Russia on Saturday, which should set up a crunch final pool game against the classy USA side early on Sunday for a probable place in the final four.

"It's extremely interesting. It adds an element of cut-throat. If we don't top our pool, it's on us," she said.

The Australian men face Argentina and powerhouses Fiji on Saturday, and meet Samoa the following morning.

Tim Walsh's team are ninth after two rounds, having reached the quarter-finals in Dubai and failed to advance from pool play in Cape Town.