She’s arguably the fastest woman in world rugby, and she scored a decisive try to earn Australia a gold medal at the Rio Olympics. In time for International Women’s Day yesterday, I spoke to Ellia Green about scoring goals, making 'herstory', and what it’s like to play a man’s game.
“ELLIA GREEN! Oh, what a try!” a rugby commentator bellows as the quick, sparky Fiji-born rugby wing dances around her Canadian opponents, gliding across the try line to score the winning goal at the Gold Coast Rugby 7s in 2014. “When she finds out how to play this game she’s going to be exceptional,” the male sportscaster then declares.
I'm no rugby expert - but I'd argue that 80-metre sprint and winning try signaled Ellia as a pretty exceptional rugby player those few years back, even a new Rugby Australia MVP. Within just four hours, the video of Ellia's graceful, powerful try had been viewed over 200,000 times on the World Rugby Sevens Facebook page.
Since that game, Ellia’s kept up the pace and is an absolutely formidable force on the Australian women's 7s team. In Rio in 2016, Ellia scored another swift, game-changing try, helping her team beat Australia's traditional trans-Tasman rugby rivals, New Zealand 24-17.
As for what winning gold was like, Ellia's quick to call out her fellow female players. "As per usual, my teammates did the hard work and made me look good!" she smiles. "For example, players like Alicia Quirk who can easily pass 20-metres and Charlotte Caslick and Emilee Cherry who have the amazing footwork to put me into space. For our team to win the gold medal, it was an unforgettable moment that was the icing on the cake to a very long four years of hard work and dedication."
It was a surreal moment for the team, but maybe also for women everywhere. Women's Rugby 7s was real, it was fun, and this crew of Australian ladies was really, really good at it.
Ellia was born in Suva in Fiji, and later moved to the NSW Central Coast, before settling in Melbourne. "I’ve always loved exercise and have played every sport imaginable through the years," Ellia says. She was a sprinter before becoming a rugby favourite, and spent 10 years in athletics, representing Australia in the 100m, 200m and long jump at the World Junior Championships.
"When I was growing up, I looked up to Carmelita Jeter, the fastest woman in the world – she was definitely my inspiration!" Ellia pinned affirmations on her bedroom wall to remind herself nothing was out of reach. Among the notes was a reminder from her mother: 'I AM THE GREATEST ATHLETE IN THE WORLD'.
The former track star was eventually snapped up by the Australian Rugby Sevens program after attending a ‘Pathway to Gold’ Talent ID camp in Melbourne in 2012.
"I’ll never forget where I came from as a track and field athlete and I’m grateful for my athletics background, especially as my training has helped me a lot in the Rugby 7s," she says. "One thing that athletics was missing was the team involvement as it can sometimes be a lonely sport. Rugby 7s has enabled me to make friends all over the world and given me the support of an amazing team."
The women's inspiring success at Rio spurred the creation of a new all-female tournament in Australia, and next month for the first time, women's Rugby 7s will feature as part of the 2018 Commonwealth Games. Ellia is proud that she and her teammates are pioneers - a part of big change, fiercely smashing the stereotype that rugby is a man's game.
"It's a huge privilege to be part of this change that’s taking part in Australia and all over the world. I’m very proud of the fact that Rugby 7s is taking the lead globally and I can’t wait to see where young girls will be in another few years’ time for the next Olympic games."
And she's quick to encourage other ladies to go after the goals. She's now the ambassador of The Iconic Sport Challenge, a get-fit initiative launched by the e-tailer. "When it comes to exercise specifically, make it a habit, not a chore," she advises. "Also, invite your friends along - you’re much more likely to feel motivated when working out in a group and less likely to snooze your alarm!"
Indeed, the sky's the limit doesn't quite fit for Ellia Green - there's a lot more she has in mind. "In future, I hope to see myself working as an ambassador for the United Nations. But right now, I’m focused on the next big thing, which is getting to the Commonwealth Games and winning gold."