Hamilton Sevens: Aussies in the hunt after promising day one

Photo: Mike Lee – KLC fotos for World Rugby

It was almost another perfect day for Australia’s fast-improving men’s Sevens side as they looked to back up last weekend’s memorable tournament win on home soil in Sydney. Earlier wins over Spain and Wales left them with a straight shoot-out with Fiji for pole position in Pool A, but an exciting clash that saw the lead change several times eventually ended 26-15 in favour of the Olympic champions, leaving the Aussies with a Cup Quarter-Final draw against surprise outfit Kenya tomorrow, kick-off 11.20 AEDT on FoxSports.

With three new squad members replacing injured skipper Lewis Holland and Boyd Killingworth, and the rested Jesse Parahi, Australia still went into the opening clash in Spain in fine spirits off the back of their ground-breaking success in Sydney. But they had to fight hard to overcome a gallant Spanish side, a Ben O’Donnell try giving them a slender 7-5 lead at the break. However, two unanswered scores in the second half from Tom Connor and Lachie Anderson saw them home, with Sam Croke also joining the fray for his international Sevens debut.

Wales provided even further stiff resistance in the second contest of the day, putting together plenty of phases to test the Aussie line whilst holding firm at the other end of the field to force a scoreless first half. But the irrepressible O’Donnell added to his burgeoning reputation with a fine 60-metre effort shortly after the restart to open the scoring and Australia didn’t look back, adding three more five-pointers through Maurice Longbottom, Charlie Taylor and a second from O’Donnell to top the pool on points differential from Fiji ahead of the decider.

The final clash of the day for both sides started with a bang, Fiji profiting almost from the kick-off with a trademark offload releasing Eroni Sau for a 70-metre run to the line. But Australia didn’t panic, regrouped and set about launching a platform from possession, a quickfire double from Tim Anstee edging them in front before a length-of-the-field effort put the Flying Fijians back ahead 12-10 at the break.

The Aussies regained the lead early in the second stanza through Anderson after good work from replacement Longbottom, but Fiji cancelled that out within a minute to make it 19-15. It was anyone’s game in the closing stages but it was Fiji who controlled possession when it mattered, camping on the Australian line with time running out and carving out the space needed for Sau to grab his second and seal victory, the Fijians eleventh in a row over the men in gold.

Eroni Sau_Hamilton Sevens_2017_WR

Eroni Sau reaches for the line in the Pool A decider – Photo: Mike Lee – KLC fotos for World Rugby

Head coach Andy Friend reflected on what was a positive day all round, and ahead to the clash with Kenya tomorrow.

“I thought we got better as the day went on, two wins one loss,” he said. “The opening game against Spain we were a bit slow to start, we weren’t happy with that but our game against Wales was much, much better.
 
“The last game against Fiji, I was really proud of the boys, we worked really hard and they had to play some pretty special footy to beat us. I’m really proud that we’re into the quarter-finals, we’ll have a good rest up tonight and come out all guns blazing against Kenya.
 
“They’re a good side, they’re very, very powerful men and if you let them run they’ll damage you. Not surprising to see them there, we’ll have a good look at them tonight, have a good rest and give them our best shot.”

Elsewhere, hosts New Zealand just about topped their pool after holding off an impressive Argentina in the final match of the day. That 17-12 win maintained their unbeaten day one, and set up a Cup Quarter-Final against an underwhelming England.

They finished second in Pool B after suffering a 28-7 spanking at the hands of reigning champions and current series leaders South Africa. That meant that the ‘Blitz Bokke’ will now take on Scotland in the last eight, whose 26-14 win over France in their last hit-out edged out an unlucky Argentina, who drop to the Challenge Cup play-offs.

The first Quarter-Final will be played out between Pacific rivals Fiji and Samoa, after the Samoans beat both the USA and Canada to finish behind Kenya, who won two and drew one of their three games to ensure another shot at their first title since Singapore in 2016.

Cup Quarter Finals:
Fiji v Samoa
New Zealand v England
Kenya v Australia
South Africa v Scotland

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