Paris Sevens Day Two: Aussie men come unstuck in pool stages
Photo: Mike Lee – KLC fotos for World Rugby
It was a disappointing opening day for the Australian Men’s Sevens, as they got their final tournament of the World Series underway in Paris with just one win from their three pool matches.
A first-up 29-10 victory over Wales was a promising start, but a 17-10 loss to a fast-improving Spain in game two left them with it all to do in the final encounter against Ireland. A HIA to star man Ben O’Donnell early in the piece was a setback they could have done without, and the ensuing 24-14 defeat capped off a dispiriting day with the knowledge that a Challenge Cup Quarter-Final against Russia was all that awaited them.
“We came here to perform and we came here to win and we’re not going to get that chance tomorrow which is bitterly disappointing and not really up to the standards that have been set,” said a clearly disappointed head coach Tim Walsh.
“We have to be a consistent team and that’s the work on, with mental resilience and toughness, that when the chips are down that we find a way to win. Regardless of the result today, we have to turn up tomorrow and whoever we play against, we have to respect them, respect ourselves and play with passion and play with heart.”
The clash with Wales was the curtain-raiser for the Men’s tournament itself, and the Aussies got off to a fine start at the Stade Jean Bouin when Sam Myers ran in from 50 metres. Pocket dynamo Maurice Longbottom got some early minutes when Tom Lucas was forced from the field with injury, and he wasted no time in showcasing his talents with some hot-stepping through the Welsh defence for try number two.
Those celebrations were soon turned sour when he saw yellow for tackling a man without the ball, and the Welsh duly took advantage, Owen Jenkins crossing to make it 12-5. But despite the man disadvantage, the Aussies didn’t sit on their heels, Brandon Quinn breaking the line and having too much speed for the chasers to make it 17-5 at the break.
Longbottom returned to the fray and soon made amends with his second, before the returning Liam McNamara – playing his first game in nine months after rupturing his ACL – went in for a popular score to seal the win. Jenkins grabbed a second for himself and Wales late on, but the 29-10 result augured well for the rest of the pool stages.
Spain have been one of the biggest improvers of the current World Series, and they proved exactly why when they took the field against the men in green and gold for game two. Ben O’Donnell profited from a neat offload from Tim Anstee to kick-start the scoreboard, but the Spaniards then took control of possession, and the eventual five-pointer from Alejandro Alonso was nothing more than they deserved.
The turning point was another yellow card for Longbottom – his second in two games – after needlessly knocking the ball into touch from the in-goal as Spain threatened just before half-time, and conceding a penalty try for his exploits.
As with the previous game, going a man down doesn’t faze this Aussie side and they continued to shoot from the hip in the second half, O’Donnell returning the favour of the opening try with a long cut-out pass to put Anstee away to trail 10-12. Australia continued to press for a match-winner, but in doing so, left themselves exposed at the other end, and Spain took advantage, Pol Pla running in to cement an upset 17-10 win for the lower ranked team.
That left a straight shoot-out in the final clash of the day with Ireland. Win and you qualify for the Cup Quarter-Finals alongside Spain. Lose and it was a relegation to the Challenge Cup play-offs and a place outside the profitable top eight points positions.
Australia got the start they wanted when skipper Lewis Holland burst from a ruck to catch the Irish defence unawares and find the line. But their task was made that much harder by the ensuing HIA to pivotal player Ben O’Donnell. Whether that played into the mindset of their opponents or not, it was Ireland who dominated the next passages of play, starving the Aussies of ball and getting their reward when Terry Kennedy smashed his way over.
And the bronze medallists from the London Sevens the week before maintained their recent upsurge in form, captain Mark Roche leading by example to put his team in front right on the half-time siren with a robust charge to the chalk from a few metres out. Their grip on the game strengthened after the restart when Roche went in for his second to open up a 17-5 advantage, before Maurice Longbottom’s searing pace came to the fore just when Australia needed it to make it 17-14.
With time running out, the Aussies pushed hard for the try that would have dramatically changed their fortunes for the rest of the tournament. But as against the Spanish earlier on, they pushed just that bit too hard and were undone on the counter, Ireland confirming the win and top spot in the pool with a final five-pointer to Adam Leavy. Australia left to lick their wounds and prepare for as positive a finish as they can muster tomorrow.
Australia v Russia at 5.07pm AEST on FoxSports
Australia 29-10 Wales
Tries: Maurice Longbottom 2, Sam Myers, Brandon Quinn, Liam McNamara
Cons: Tom Lucas, Liam McNamara
Australia 10-17 Spain
Tries: Ben O’Donnell, Tim Anstee
Australia 14-24 Ireland
Tries: Lewis Holland, Maurice Longbottom
Cons: Lewis Holland, Liam McNamara