Las Vegas Sevens: Aussies finish 6th as USA claim home crown
Photo: Mike Lee – KLC fotos for World Rugby
A loss in extra-time to arch-rivals New Zealand has left the Australian Men’s Sevens team with a 6th place finish on the final day of the Las Vegas leg of the World Series.
Victory earlier in the day over Kenya set up a 5th place play-off match against the kiwis, where the scores were 12-all after the regulation 14 minutes, before Sione Molia ran home the match-winner in added time. Australia picked up 12pts for their efforts to remain in 4th spot on the overall World Series standings.
The Cup semi-finals saw a couple of upsets as hosts USA overcame high-flying Fiji 19-7, and Argentina downed series leaders and reigning champions South Africa, 12-10, to book their place in the final.
But it was one-way traffic when the two sides met in the title decider a few hours later, the home side putting on a show in front of their own crowd to run out 28-0 winners, and claim their first series win since London, 2015.
The day started for the Aussies with a tough contest against a big, physical and skilful Kenyan side. James Stannard got the ball rolling with a try from the kick-off, only for Kenya to hit back. John Porch grabbed another five-pointer to edge ahead but again, Kenya were able to level and make it 14-all at the break.
Scores continued to be traded in the second half when a Lachie Anderson score was cancelled out by a third from their dogged opponents, and the stalemate couldn’t be broken. Level at 21-all, the game went into extra-time, and after replacement Tom Lucas made an initial break, it was the veteran Stannard himself, who was on hand to dive over next to the posts and take Australia through to yet another trans-Tasman clash.
Again, they started well, and again it was Stannard on the scoreboard after good work from Jesse Parahi. But New Zealand hit back straight away, Vilimoni Koroi finding the chalk to leave the scores locked at 7-all at half-time.
The All Blacks Sevens upped the intensity after the restart, pressuring Australia onto the backfoot and forcing a couple of try-saving tackles from Stannard and Charlie Taylor. But the onslaught continued and Sam Dickson’s try with the clock ticking down looked to have sealed the win.
But Andy Friend and his coaching staff have bred a determination and a refusal to throw in the towel amongst this talented squad, and with one last shot at salvation, they peppered the New Zealand line through multiple phases before skipper Lewis Holland traded passes with Tim Anstee out wide and dived home to take it to another extra-time at 12-all.
Alas, after all their exertions to force the additional time, they couldn’t finish New Zealand off when they had them at their mercy in the red zone, and one mistake proved costly as possession was coughed up and Sione Molia took advantage to run away for the match-winner and a final score of 17-12.
“The last three times we have played New Zealand have come right down to the wire,” reflected head coach Andy Friend. “I thought the guys did really well to get the game to extra time. They took their last chance and that’s how tight the game of Sevens is at the moment.
“We are disappointed to lose, but I was really impressed with the fight of the guys throughout the match. James Stannard has been great in the way he continues to grow his game. I take my hat off to the man; he continues to grow as a leader and as a football player. At his age he could be expected to tail off, but he just continues to look like he is getting younger with the way he defends and plays.”
Australia now head to Vancouver for round six of the HSBC Sevens World Series, where they will contest Pool A alongside the USA, Uruguay and hosts Canada.
Meanwhile, and following yesterday’s pitch controversy that prevented play, the Aussie Women’s Sevens were able to complete their series of Exhibition matches against the USA Women’s sides with another two wins. The golden girls had won and lost in the first two games between the teams on Saturday, but took things up a notch to claim 40-7 and 39-12 victories for a 3-1 series win overall, as they continue to prepare for the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast.