AMY TURNER HAS BEEN PLAYING RUGBY FOR 24 YEARS, BUT IT IS ONLY IN THE LAST TWO THAT SHE WAS ABLE TO FOCUS ON HER BELOVED SPORT FULL-TIME AS SHE SET HER SIGHTS ON FULFILLING A “ONCE IN A LIFETIME” OPPORTUNITY AT RIO 2016.
Born and raised in Tokoroa, a New Zealand town of 14,000 which has produced a disproportionate number of top rugby players, she is the oldest and most experienced player in the Australia side that will be aiming for Olympic gold in Brazil.
“I didn’t have any dreams of going to the Olympics, I’m not a sprinter, I’m not a swimmer, I play rugby,” says the 32-year-old. “It’s awesome. I’m over the moon, I just can’t wait.”
It was not until two years ago that Turner felt able to give up her job in the vast copper mines at Mount Isa in Queensland. Deciding that money “wasn’t everything”, Turner stopped commuting 2,400km between the team’s base in Sydney and the mines, where she drove colossal dumper trucks.
“I was probably like half the size of the tyre,” laughed Turner, who stands 165 cm (5ft 4in) tall. “I was working four (days) on, four off, 12-hour days, trying to fit in training schedules. It was pretty tough but I didn’t want to get left behind.”
Toughness and leadership are among the qualities Turner brings to the squad, according to Walsh, who has used her as an exemplar for other players who have switched from sports such as touch rugby and netball.
“She has a real ruthless edge about her, a real toughness which she exudes,” the coach said.
Meanwhile, Turner is hoping that Rio will provide the women’s game with the platform and profile it needs to kick on. “Hopefully, people will start buying into the women’s sport. It’s a great sport, it’s going to take off and hopefully everyone will put money into the sport. The Olympics will be a whole new ball game,” she adds. “Playing in front of millions worldwide, something we’ll be able to tell our kids about one day, hopefully.”
If Turner will be laying claim to being one of the toughest competitors on display in Rio, her team-mate Ellia Green, will be a contender for the speediest.
Four years after giving her cousin a lift to open tryouts for the sevens programme in Melbourne, the 23-year-old former track sprinter is taking the world of women’s rugby by storm with her searing pace.
“She’s probably the fastest runner in world series women’s rugby,” says Australia coach Tim Walsh. “Ellia provides us with that X-factor and that speed which is priceless in the game of sevens.”
But for her cousin persuading her first to drive her to the trials, and then to take part, Green would probably still be pursuing her dream of becoming Australia’s first sprint champion since Betty Cuthbert at the 1956 Olympics.
“She was really keen to go and I wasn’t that keen as I didn’t know the rules and was very focused on my track and field,” Green recalls. “I drove her there and three months later I was taken to my first world series in Houston. It happened really quickly and it wasn’t something I had planned. I would never have pictured myself in rugby sevens. Every kid’s dream playing sport is wanting to be part of the Olympic Games and it’s slowly becoming reality.”
It was not long before Green was making her mark and an 80 metre match-winning try she scored against Canada on the Gold Coast in October 2014 went viral on social media.
“I hope I’m a bit faster now!” laughs Green. “That try got a lot of attention but I just get to do the fun part, which is finishing, scoring tries. The rest of my team are amazing with the skill work and the turnovers in the middle, they make me look good.”