Sydney Sevens: Aussie Women claim bronze on home soil
Photo: J.B Photography
It wasn’t the colour they wanted but the Australian Women’s Sevens team had to content themselves with a bronze medal in Sydney on Sunday, downing France for the second time of the day after going down heavily to an impressive Canada in the semi-final.
Having just about seen off a dogged French outfit 14-10 in the early session at Bankwest Stadium to top the pool, the Aussies had no answer to a well-drilled Canadian side that took away a place in the big dance for the second week in a row with a comprehensive 34-0 victory.
With Les Bleus going down in their semi-final to Series leaders New Zealand, that left a renewing of hostilities to decide 3rd and 4th place and some much-needed Series points. And it was a gutsy display of character that got Australia home, two first half tries edging them home 12-10 for a third place finish, and a share of second place on the overall Series standings behind eventual winners New Zealand.
A brutal start to the semi-final saw Emilee Cherry left on the deck after a thumping hit from Pam Buisa, who in turn was unceremoniously upended by Ellia Green. But with Cherry still missing from the defensive line Canada pounced, working the numbers for Kaili Lukan to cross in the corner.
The dynamic duo of Charlotte Caslick and Green were struggling to find space as Canada’s aggressive line speed choked them in their own half, while their counter-rucking was spoiling plenty of Australian possession. A penalty conceded by Green, under pressure after a grubber through, gave Canada prime field position from five metres out, and they didn’t waste it. Stretching the Aussie line it was the powerful Buisa who broke it, and offloaded from the floor for the supporting Ghislaine Landry to dive home.
The hosts needed something before the break, and it was Emma Tonegato who looked like providing it, as she used her pace and quick feet to make a couple of half breaks to get her side into enemy territory. But just as they got themselves within reach, a loose pass fell Canada’s way, and in her desperation to regain possession, Sharni Williams committed the cardinal sin of a hair-pull and was duly sent to the bin.
Starting the second half a woman down, Australia needed to quell the fire for 90 seconds until Williams returned from purgatory. But the inevitable extra space is out there and good teams tend to find it, Canada breaking from their own 22 with Bianca Farella slicing through a gap and having too much gas for the chasing Caslick.
Just as they were about to return to a full quota, the Aussies were struck a hammer blow. Canada, exuding confidence and belief in everything they were doing, patiently worked an overlap for Keyara Wardley to find the corner for try number four. But in trying to stop her, Cassie Staples was guilty of a textbook seatbelt tackle, and swapped places with the returning Williams.
Ellia Green was doing her best to get her side into the contest, bringing plenty of physicality to the table. But everything she threw at the Canucks they met fire with fire, and when they won back possession, they were simply unstoppable, Wardley stepping her way inside a couple of missed tackles from gold jerseys and putting on the afterburners for her second.
You knew it wasn’t meant to be for Australia when the normally reliable Shannon Parry let the ball go through her legs and Karen Paquin scooped up to dive in for another. 34-0 and a suitable silence around Bankwest Stadium. Where did that come from?
That loss meant a rematch with France to decide the Bronze Medal, and with play delayed after lightning strikes in the area, both sides had plenty of time to mull over the contest ahead.
But when the first whistle went it was the Aussies with the bit firmly between their teeth, Charlotte Caslick lulling in defenders out of the line to create a gap for Ellia Green to run it in from over 60 metres. They repeated the trick shortly after, Emma Tonegato drifting wide for Alicia Lucas to send Demi Hayes down the same path as Green for a second.
France almost got off the mark when Lina Guerin skirted around Green and hit full throttle. But you need to be pretty darn rapid to try and to outpace the ‘Green Machine’, and she soon reeled in her prey and thwarted danger with the help of Caslick. A set play on the buzzer gave Australia a chance to concoct a knockout blow, but as Caslick and Green combined once again off the back of some selfless work from the impressive Tonegato, a sterling defensive effort from Seraphine Okemba shepherded the dynamic winger into touch.
As in the pool match earlier in the day, France returned a different side after the break, and bossed the possession before finding a way back into the contest. Caslick backed herself when she gave Okemba the sideline, but the rangy 24-year-old caught her unawares with a stutter step and just enough gas to get around her and find Camille Grassineau in support for 12-5.
Les Bleus maintained the rage, dominating time with the ball and looking for an opening. But they were faced with two minutes of gutsy and determined defence from those in green and gold, all and sundry putting their bodies on the line in an exhaustive passage of non-stop play. With both sides out on their feet and just 30 seconds left, France somehow scrambled their way upfield to create a two-on-one for Joanna Grisez to just see off the chasing Lucas – both running through treacle – to get her side within 2pts.
The buzzer sounded as France took the kick-off looking for a killer final play, only for Okemba to fail to find the required 10 metres, gifting Australia a tap penalty and a gleeful kick to touch to ensure the third place finish. It wasn’t what they wanted in front of their own fans. But there were plenty of signs of a side heading firmly in the right direction, and the way they responded from the disappointment of the semi final to fight so hard with precious little left in the tank, was very impressive.
AUSTRALIA 0 CANADA 34
BRONZE MEDAL MATCH
AUSTRALIA 12 FRANCE 10
Tries: Ellia Green, Demi Hayes
Cons: Ellia Green