University of Canberra student April Downey has been identified as a star of the future, selected in the Rising Stars team for Round 2 of the 2023 AON Next Gen Sevens Series.
Considered a pathway to the Australian Sevens program, the women’s Rugby Sevens series is comprised of teams from New South Wales, Queensland and a Rising Stars team, which picks players from the ACT, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia.
April was selected following a strong 2022 season on the field.
“I played for the UC7s team during the Uni 7s tournament,” April says.
“I wasn’t selected for the first round but was fortunate enough to be picked up for the series in Narrabri this weekend.
“The team’s head coach and UC7s coach James Erwin contacted me and said they wanted me in the squad – I was so keen, and excited to be part of it.”
Along with James taking on the coaching role following a season with the UC7s, UC Lecturer and UC7s Performance Lead Billy Mason and physiotherapist Dom Trinder have also signed up to be part of the Rising Stars staff.
“It will be nice to have some familiar faces around, to make you feel more comfortable, that’s for sure,” April says.
The 18-year-old will play against big names, with nine Australian rugby players in the mix, including Charlotte Caslick, Demi Hayes and Faith Nathan.
“I’m hoping to perform the way I usually do and then just build on that,” she says.
“I’ll be playing with girls who have a lot more experience in Sevens, so it will be a great learning opportunity for me, and I am really looking forward to it.
“Anything that involves footy, I love. I’ve been playing Sevens since I was about 14 so it’s definitely something I am interested in – but I love any rugby code.”
Actively playing three codes of football, April has played for the Brumbies schoolgirls and in the Raiders’ Tarsha Gale squad in 2022. She’s been involved in Sevens for four years and has quickly become well known for her speed, becoming affectionately known as Sonic the Hedgehog.
“15s is just a different pace, because there’s a lot more people on the field and it’s a longer game, so you don’t exert 100 per cent effort for the whole game,” she explains.
“Whereas in Sevens, it’s just go go go, and it doesn’t stop for the entire game. It may only be 14 minutes but compared to the 80 minutes you play in 15s, it’s the hardest thing I have ever done.
“I love how fast paced it is – you don’t really have time to think, you just do.”
April leaves the thinking to her University study, as she is currently undertaking a Bachelor of Business Management at the University of Canberra.
“I find it [studying] really enjoyable. I do like business management even though a couple of the classes take a lot out of you,” she says.
The 18-year-old is now entering her second year of full-time study.
“It’s not too bad because it’s just a couple hours a day, but with work and training, and playing three different codes of footy, it’s a lot.
“At the end of the day though, I sleep very well – so that’s something!”
This weekend’s AON Next Gen Series will be streamed live via the Rugby Australia website.
Words by Aggie Bradshaw, images by Tyler Cherry.