Vancouver Sevens Day One: Porch lights up as Aussies go unbeaten
Photo: Mike Lee – KLC fotos for World Rugby
They were made to work hard for it, but the Australian Men’s Sevens side rallied themselves in the pool stages on day one in Vancouver to finish unbeaten and earn a Cup Quarter-Final against series leaders South Africa tomorrow.
An opening 19-all draw with hosts Canada wasn’t the start they were looking for, but after swatting aside a poor Uruguay 50-17 in game two, they saved the best ’til last, coming from behind against the in-form USA to score two tries with a man in the bin, and going on to beat last week’s champions in Las Vegas 31-21, to top Pool A.
Elsewhere, it was pretty much a case of as you were, as the top eight sides on the current HSBC World Series ladder all progressed to tomorrow’s Cup Quarter-Finals. But there were a few twists and turns along the way, with New Zealand upsetting reigning champions South Africa, Fiji losing to Kenya, and England downing Argentina. While Canada – who only lost one of their three games, and Samoa – who beat England 21-5, can consider themselves unlucky to just miss out.
Kicking off their campaign with the same squad of 12 that played in Vegas last week – a first for head coach Andy Friend in his Sevens coaching career – they took on a fired-up Canadian side keen to impress the 30,000 fans packed into Vancouver’s BC Place Stadium.
And they got the perfect start when John Porch claimed James Stannard’s kick-off to sprint 40 metres and open the scoring, in what would be the first of many highlights on a memorable day for the Northern Suburbs flyer.
The Canucks hit back through veteran Nathan Hirayama, and had the home crowd in fine voice when a Pat Kay try took them out to a 12-7 lead at the break. But again, the Aussies were first out of the blocks in the second half, Ben O’Donnell going over near the posts after a fine scrum.
O’Donnell soon bagged his second, going over out wide after some typically slick work from the ever-alert Stannard, to make it 19-12. But the hosts weren’t done yet, and after turning over another Australian attack they pounced, Hirayama putting John Moonlight away to the corner after the bell, before stepping up to slot the conversion and leave honours even.
The stalemate left an uphill task for the Aussies, who knew that a cricket score might be needed against Uruguay in their next match before they took on a confident USA team that had dispatched them 28-7 just seven days earlier.
They did what they had to against the South Americans, Stannard getting the ball rolling after good work from Jesse Parahi, before a Lewis Holland double either side of another five-pointer for Ben O’Donnell, had the men in green and gold up 24-7 at half-time.
Skipper Holland led by example with another double after the resumption to claim a four-try haul, and he was backed up by another from Porch and then replacement Tim Anstee. The only blot on the copybook was the two late tries they conceded to the Uruguayans to leave a 50-17 scoreline, but it was a job well done nonetheless.
All of which left the Pool A showdown against the USA, themselves unbeaten after edging the ‘derby’ with Canada 28-21 and demolishing poor Uruguay 45-0. Fittingly, it was the last action of the day, and those that stayed ’til the end at BC Place would not be disappointed.
First blood went to the Americans, speedster Carlin Isles too hot to handle out wide. But a gutsy effort from the impressive Parahi, who carried a couple over the line with him in a powerful charge, soon had Australia level.
A quick-fire double to 2017 World Rugby Sevens Player of the Year Perry Baker, saw the Eagles flying high at oranges with a 21-7 advantage, and when replacement Charlie Taylor went to the bin for dangerous play straight from the restart, it looked like this particular fight was lost.
But a pleasing trait of this squad under coach Friend is that they never know when they are beaten, and in true Aussie battler spirit, they went on the offensive and produced two tries against the odds.
The pace of John Porch earned the first, the 24-year-old even outgunning the chasing Baker on his way to the line and moments later, Holland was putting in a captain’s knock with his own demonstrative swathe down the sideline. 21-all.
The real game-changer was the yellow card shown to Baker for throwing the ball away with a couple of minutes left on the clock, and Australia – and Porch in particular – didn’t waste their advantage. He claimed his second with a show of power to smash through a couple of defenders and find the chalk for 26-21, and with the USA desperate to get their hands on the ball and construct a late riposte, he produced a moment of magic to grubber in behind, run around the last man, and gleefully dive on the ball for his hat-trick.
“We had massive highs and massive lows today and that’s just the crazy part of Sevens rugby,” said Andy Friend afterwards. “I thought we did some good things against Canada but then we gave it away a bit. I thought some of the stuff against Uruguay was very, very good and then we leaked a few late tries to leave us really under pressure against the USA. We came home with an absolute wet sail though to finish with four unanswered tries.
“We know South Africa are the current World Champions, they gave us a touch up last weekend but tomorrow is a brand new day, we need to respect the footy, we need to make sure our defence is intact and if we do that then there’s no reason we can’t beat them. What we showed there today is that when we stick to our structures we are a very, very good football side.”
Australia 19 drew with Canada 19
Tries: Ben O’Donnell 2, John Porch
Cons: James Stannard 2
Australia 50 defeated Uruguay 17
Tries: Lewis Holland 4, James Stannard, Ben O’Donnell, Tim Anstee, John Porch
Cons: James Stannard 4 cons
Australia 31 defeated USA 21
Tries: John Porch 3, Jesse Parahi, Lewis Holland
Cons: James Stannard 3 cons
Australia v South Africa, 5.08am AEDT tomorrow (Monday 12th March), FoxSports