Singapore Sevens Day One: Impressive Aussies undefeated

Photo: Mike Lee – KLC fotos for World Rugby

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The new dawn for Australian Men’s Sevens rugby has started in fine style, with three wins from three on day one in Singapore under new head coach Tim Walsh.

A tricky looking pool was summarily dealt with after wins over Scotland (24-20), New Zealand (19-12), and Wales (38-0) left the Aussies top of the tree, and looking forward to a Cup Quarter-Final against Spain later today.

They will be joined in the last eight by series leaders South Africa, reigning World Series champions Fiji, New Zealand, England, Kenya and Samoa.

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“It was a great first day,” reflected a proud Tim Walsh said. “I think they earned the right to play tomorrow in the big comp and I’m really looking forward to seeing what we can do and produce on day two.”

“We’ve set ourselves up in a good way for tomorrow, we have to make sure we’re respecting everybody and make sure we’re coming out for the quarter final ready to play for the full 14 minutes and hold our composure under pressure.”

Already without Lewis Holland and James Stannard, Walsh and co. were handed a further challenge before they got underway, with the pacy Nicky Price ruled out of the tournament and 13th man Dylan Pietsch drafted in. But they were unfazed when they opened the scoring against Scotland virtually from the kick-off, Ben O’Donnell beating three defenders on his way to the opener.

The Scots returned serve straight away with Darcy Graham running in, but it was the Aussies who continued to find space, and a combination of Sam Myers and O’Donnell got them within range for Lachie Anderson to go over for a 10-5 lead.

That was cancelled out with the last play of the half, Robbie Fergusson powering over from a metre to level proceedings despite a valiant effort from John Porch. But it was Porch who profited from a loose pass shortly after the restart, intercepting and going the length of the field to score before converting his own good work.

The see-saw nature of the game continued with Scotland hitting back from the Australian kick-off, Fergusson in for his second after good work from Glenn Bryce. And they hit the lead with two minutes left on the clock, Harvey Elms carving a path out wide before straightening between two gold jerseys to find the chalk.

But there was still time for Australia to come up with a match-winning play. The ubiquitous Porch made the initial line break and fed Tim Anstee, who put a wobbly old grubber in behind for speed merchant Maurice Longbottom to race onto and ensure a 24-20 win.

Jesse Parahi_Sydney Sevens_2018_AJF

Skipper Jesse Parahi was a combative presence throughout – Photo: AJF Photography

Next up was a renewal of the healthy trans-Tasman rivalry, as New Zealand looked to back-up their Commonwealth Games gold with a second World Series win of the season.

An early high shot on Jesse Parahi could well have brought more than just a penalty. But the Aussies worked it well from the ensuing scrum, stretching the New Zealand line with Porch grubbering to himself, and Tom Connor and Anstee combining to put Brandon Quinn away in the corner.

Dominating possession for the next few minutes, Australia were able to build patient phases and restrict their opponent’s ability to contest the ball on the floor by getting their second man in quickly. And when a few black jerseys had been sucked into the ruck in search of a turnover, a step and neat pop pass from the alert Connor freed Anderson through the line and away for a second.

But you can’t keep the kiwis down for long, and from virtually their first period of pressure in the Australian half, they got themselves back into the game. A quick tap penalty from Tim Mikkelson had the gold line retreating, and a rare spacing error opened up a gap for Trael Joass to scoot through and reduce the deficit to 12-7 at the break.

Australia’s continued efficiency was borne out by the fact that at the halfway stage of the second half, they had a 100% completion rate and had only needed to make seven tackles. And yet, from their first chance in the second stanza, New Zealand struck again, a devastating surge upfield from Ngarohi McGarvey Black only bettered by his reverse pass for Mikkelson to put Dylan Collier away to the corner for 12-all.

That proved to be the spark Australia needed to kick for home and cement the victory their overall play had deserved. John Porch – enjoying a fine first day of competition – was heavily involved again. It was he who made the initial bust up the middle, then muscled up at the breakdown, and then backed up the next play out wide with a perfect line to dissect the defence and dive for home, before adding the extras. Game over.

After putting themselves in pole position to top Pool D with two hard-fought victories, the collective Aussie legs got the relatively free ride they had earned in the final clash of the day, against a Welsh side that simply couldn’t hold them.

Skipper Jesse Parahi was rested after picking up a shoulder injury in the previous game, while young gun Lachie Miller got a starting jersey in what was just his second tournament. And it was the 23-year-old from Coffs Harbour that got things underway, backing up a line break from Lachie Anderson to outpace the last man and dot down.

John Porch, stand-in captain for Parahi, soon added another after Wales spilt the ball on halfway and O’Donnell put him away down the sideline. And it was three when the hardworking Connor fought his away inside the 22, and ever-present linkman O’Donnell found an unmarked Quinn for his second of the day.

Wales weren’t helping themselves either, an overthrow at the lineout backed up by a handling error as they tried to mop up the error, and Sam Myers scooping up to go under the posts for Porch to take his side to the sheds with a 24-0 advantage. But staring down the barrel at an onslaught, they regrouped well in the second half, got some meaningful possession and had Australia camped in their own red zone.

With the game seemingly in the bag, that was a test that coach Walsh would have wanted them to come through, and after three whole minutes of defence they did so, before pouncing twice in quick succession to rubber stamp an unblemished day at the office.

Jeral Skelton claimed the first, stepping from his own 22 to put on the afterburners and go 90 metres. And Dylan Pietsch got in on the act straight from the kick-off, the restart failing to be dealt with by Wales and the ball sitting up nicely for Pietsch to pluck from the air and run in try number six.

All in all, an impressive start for this young side and their new head coach. But he of all people will know the hard work starts now.

Australia v Spain at 3.14pm AEST on FoxSports.

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Australia 24-20 Scotland
Tries: Ben O’Donnell, Lachie Anderson, John Porch, Maurice Longbottom
Cons: John Porch 2
Australia 19-12 New Zealand
Tries: Brandon Quinn, Lachie Anderson, John Porch
Cons: John Porch 2
Australia 34-0 Wales
Tries: Lachie Miller, John Porch, Brandon Quinn, Sam Myers, Jeral Skelton, Dylan Pietsch
Cons: John Porch 2

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