Aussies return to village; Kiwis send Tui home with mumps
GOLD COAST, Australia (AP) — As Australia’s gold-medal favorites were readying to return to the Commonwealth Games village from their self-imposed training bubble, the quarantined New Zealand women’s rugby seven squad was sending a mumps-affected player home.
New Zealand on Tuesday confirmed Ruby Tui, who has been ill with mumps, had been withdrawn from the games and replaced by 19-year-old Alena Saili before the squad checked into the athletes village following its isolation 200 kilometers (120 miles) away on the Sunshine Coast.
The competition kicks off Friday, and there’s nothing Australia’s Olympic champions have not thought of in their quest to win the first women’s sevens gold on offer at a Commonwealth Games.
The Australian squad attended the opening ceremony last week and then moved by choice to Sunshine Coast, where archrival and Olympic silver medalist New Zealand was also preparing.
Even before they went into camp, coach Tim Walsh held a surprise private team dinner for the players, their families and closest friends to let them know in no uncertain terms what to expect.
“Five of our players have never been at a multi-sport event so it’s about preparing all of athletes as best we can,” Walsh said. “We held a surprise dinner for the team ... and we thought it was important to give the families an insight and to involve them.
“Families and friends can be an important barrier against outside influences but they can also be a distraction, particularly at a home Games.”
Walsh said as a group they sat in a room and discussed everything from social media through to sickness and love interests not being a distraction.
“It was just a matter of discussing what being focused means for us — and how we can add another one percent to our mental state.”
Australia opens its campaign on Friday against Wales. But it’s the following game against England that Walsh is most concerned about.
“They are building into a really good team ... for speed and balance,” Walsh said, tipping England as a genuine medal contender. “And they have players with excellent points of difference.
“They’ll surprise a few here and in regards to the Fijians, if everything sticks — they can make it happen.”