Boost for men, blow for women’s Olympic hopes

It has been a classic good news/bad news day for the Australian rugby sevens program.

Former Wallabies star Samu Kerevi has committed to having a crack at selection for Tokyo 2021 after 2016 gold medalist Emilee Cherry announced her retirement.

First Kerevi, who is in hotel quarantine in Sydney after his season with Japan Top League club Suntory Sungoliath came to an end.

The blockbusting centre would give Australia much needed strike power but he is in a race against time to learn the ropes in the abbreviated form of the game.

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“He’s Fijian – it’s in his blood,” coach Tim Walsh told the Sydney Morning Herald.

“But it’s a big ask. There is no guarantee whatsoever.

“He’s a world class 15s player but the sevens game is physically different. And it’s a team game… It’s going to be difficult but we’re certainly loving that he’s interested and wants to get a crack. We will just throw him in the deep end and see how he plays and trains.”

Meanwhile, Cherry won’t be at the Tokyo Olympics to help Australia’s women defend the gold medal they won at Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

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Cherry, a former women’s sevens player of the year, gave birth to a daughter in 2019 but made a return to rugby in pursuit of another Olympics.

She announced her retirement on Friday, ruling herself out of the Australian team when the games begin on July 23.

“I have had some incredible experiences throughout my rugby journey, from debuting in 2012, a gold medal win in Rio, and the birth of my daughter Alice,” Cherry said in a Rugby Australia statement.

Cherry was a founding member of the fulltime rugby sevens program in Australia in 2012 and made her international debut in the World Series in Dubai.

A career highlight was Australia’s 24-17 win over New Zealand when rugby sevens made its Olympic debut in 2016.

The 28-year-old Cherry said that concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic might also have affected her decision to retire.

“My body has told me it’s had enough, and the COVID situation with schedules changing so much, and juggling Alice and childcare and (husband) Dan’s schedule… we made the decision to step back and play a support role going into Tokyo,” Cherry told the Daily Telegraph.

“I have been emotional about the decision and some of the girls have tried to talk me out of it.”

Australian women’s coach John Manenti said Cherry’s leadership would be missed.

“Emilee has given so much to the team, program and jersey, and it’s sad to see her go,” Manenti said.

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