WH Trained With The Olympic Rugby 7s Team And This Is What Happened

As WH Editor Jacqui Mooney and I are driving to the Sydney Academy of Sport and Recreation in Narrabeen, where the Aussie 7s train every day, regret starts to kick in. Why on earth did we agree to take part in the training of the Olympic-gold-medal-winning women’s Rugby 7s? It doesn’t help that yesterday we were told the coach wasn’t going to “go easy on us”.

We arrive and peeps from SOS Hydration, official hydration partner of Australian Rugby, put sweat patches on us and the players – apparently everyone sweats at different rates, and how salty that sweat is, so sweat testing can determine how you need to rehydrate during exercise.

The pro athletes head to a gym session before we meet them on the field for some jumping and catching the ball sequences with Head Coach Tim Walsh. I learn how to ‘pocket’ (basically ‘back-up’) co-captain Sharni Williams as she runs in to try to beat another player to a ball that’s hurtling through the air. I’m unsuccessful, the ball gets away from me, but hey, I’m on-field with one of my sporting idols, the legendary Sharni.

Alice tackles her boss Jacqui to the ground

Time for Craig Twentyman, Head of Athletic Performance, to take us through ‘volume running’, basically interval runs. As a whistle blows we start running around the edge of the footy field and try to keep pace with the athletes. We run for 2.5 minutes, then the whistle blows and we walk for 60 seconds. We repeat those intervals until we’ve run for a total of 2.5km. Somehow we manage to stay just behind the players. Running we can do!

Next, Team Manager Dale Roberson takes Jacqui and I through tackling skills and drills. The part we’ve been scared about all morning. He grabs a tackle bag, tells us to run towards him, bend low, slam one shoulder into the bag, wrap our arms around his waist and push as hard as we can.

I go in, fully committed, and surprise myself and those around me at the aggro that comes out. I actually move a grown man who’s resisting me. As co-captain Shannon Parry has told us, “Tackling is 20% technique and 80% attitude.” I seem to have been able to unleash my attitude.  

Next, Dale hands the tackle bag over to Jacqui and tells me to tackle her. My boss. Coach’s orders! I run in and take her to the ground. Then hope I still have my job tomorrow.       

Now it’s payback time – Jacqui hands me the tackle bag and runs in to take me down. After a fair few turns, Dale tells us to tackle each other without the bag. Charging each other into the ground is a very strange way to spend our work day. But it’s actually really fun – when in life are you actually allowed to run at someone and push them with all your strength?!

Dale thinks we’re ready to take on the pros. So next we find ourselves practicing our new skills on players Charlotte Caslick, Georgie Friedrichs, Alicia Quirk and Demi Hayes. They’re equal parts impressed and hysterical about our ‘skills’. Glad to be entertaining enough to give them a good abs workout!

The Aussie 7s players teach us some more skills, like passing the ball backwards while running. Then it’s time for some well-earned sweat-replenishment, we guzzle down our drinks.

Back in the rec room, where the players are getting massages (hey, where are our rub-downs?) and chilling out on couches in front of the TV, the SOS team removes our sweat patches so they can take them back to their sweat lab in Melbourne for analysis. (See results below.)

I’m elated by our experience – we just worked out alongside our sportswomen heroes and learnt how to tackle, something I never imagined I could actually do! I decide I will join a footy team. I change my mind that night when the dehydration headache and sore shoulder start to develop. Get me one of those massages!

From left to right: Demi Hayes, Alicia Quirk, Alice Ellis, Jacqui Mooney, Georgie Friedrichs, Charlotte Caslick

The science of our sweat

I don’t envy the person who had to analyse our sweat back in the and SOS Hydration Sweat Lab. But thanks, mate – we’re now much more educated about the stuff. The results showed Jacqui and I sweated far less than the pro athletes – no surprises there, really, since they were working a lot harder than us! While we Women’s Healthers sweat at a ‘below average’ rate (0.95L per hour), the Aussie 7s all sweat at ‘average’ or ‘above average’ rates.

More interestingly, my sweat is near twice as salty as Jacqui’s (my sweat sodium concentration was 1045mg/L, while Jacqui’s was 740mg/L). That means I need to replace more sodium (and other electrolytes) than Jacqui needs to, so while Jacqui could get away with just downing a fair bit of water during and after exercise, I might benefit more from an electrolyte replacement drink like SOS to rehydrate properly and help avert the build-up of lactic acid. Intrigue.

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