Sydney Sevens: Mixed bag for Aussie Men as they finish 6th
Photo: J.B Photography
It was a tale of two contrasting days for the Australian Men’s Sevens team at the Sydney Sevens last weekend. Saturday saw them show plenty of promise as they stood unbeaten after two pool matches against Japan and Scotland, with a combined tally of 64pts and ten tries. But Sunday was a painful reminder of how much improvement is still required if they are going to become genuine contenders in this year’s World Series, and at the Tokyo Olympics.
They’re not the first team, and they certainly won’t be the last, to be destroyed by the USA’s twin speed machine’s Perry Baker and Carlin Isles, the pair combining for five tries in a 43-7 humbling in their final pool match. All of which left a surprise trans-Tasman derby against New Zealand to decide 5th and 6th places, after the Series leaders were also torn apart by eventual tournament winners Fiji.
Again, there was a gulf in class as the kiwis ran out 24-7 victors, leaving the Aussies seventh on the overall standings after four rounds, with six remaining. Head coach Tim Walsh didn’t disagree when he reflected on the team’s performance on day two, but he still had cause for optimism looking ahead.
“Against the top teams you can’t just bring attitude, you have to be the complete team where you have the intelligence and ability to execute under pressure,” he said. “We were outclassed by both USA and New Zealand today.
“We have had a sound couple of weeks with some solid individual and team performances but we know we can be better and we will be.”
It had all started so well, Lachie Anderson swatting aside a couple defenders with ease to open the scoring inside two minutes in Saturday morning’s opening Pool C clash against Japan. It took them until half-time to add to the scoreboard however, a surging run from his own 22 from Josh Turner beating four opponents before the killer pass out wide for Jeral Skelton to stride away for a 14-0 half-time advantage.
But when they returned from the break, it was one-way traffic in favour of the Aussies. Josh Turner profited from good work from Jesse Parahi to cross in the corner, before a neat interchange between Dylan Pietsch and Joe Pincus ended with the Randwick flyer going under the posts.
The icing on the cake was provided by Maurice Longbottom, who raced from his own red zone to halfway before sizing up the situation, and executing an-inch perfect kick ahead to leave Lachie Miller the simplest of touch-downs for 33-0. The only blot on the copybook was a last minute try for a gallant Japanese outfit, Rikiya Oishi gleefully grabbing a consolation. But it was very much a case of job done.
A tougher task awaited them next, with Scotland having pushed the USA hard in their opening match. And it was the Scottish side that asked all the questions early on, after a sloppy kick-off and some Australian ill discipline gave them easy possession to work off. But the hosts didn’t take long to find a route to the chalk when they finally did get their hands on the ball.
Strong carries sucked in a few blue jerseys before Longbottom fired it wide for the unmarked Henry Hutchison. However, the flying winger still had plenty to do after inadvertently executing the splits as he took the pass, scampering back to his feet before getting those jet shoes working to burn off a couple of defenders and go over.
Scotland were unfazed and hit back immediately. Fine work from the elusive Sam Pecqueur set Robbie Fergusson away from deep in his own half with no-one home, and the skipper had too much gas for the chasing Nick Malouf. They threatened another from the restart when a penalty allowed Pecqueur to ask some questions inside the Aussie 22. But a turnover gave veteran Jesse Parahi – playing in his 50th tournament – a chance to break free and find Lewis Holland, and he waited for Hutchison in support for a final pass to send Turner under the posts for a 14-7 half-time advantage.
A yellow card to Hutchison less than a minute into the second stanza for a dangerous tackle, put the Aussies on the backfoot. But they upped the ante in defence with a man down, the combative Parahi to the fore as they frustrated Scottish attempts to make good on their advantage. They weren’t helping their cause with some pretty sloppy passing at times, but they copped another setback when Turner knocked down a pass to stop a certain five-pointer, and not only did he join Hutchison on the naughty chair, the referee rightly awarded a penalty try.
14-all with four to play and five on-field was a tricky situation, but a penalty gave Australia a chance to run down the clock and get one man back. The explosive Longbottom was sent on to try and produce some magic and duly scored from his first touch, running in from halfway. Brilliant defence then pinned the Scots on their own goal line to earn a five-metre scrum, and some patient phase play gave Longbottom the space to stretch his legs and run in a second. A hard-earned victory was rubber stamped after the siren when a crossfield kick found Anderson out wide to dot down, despite an initial air-swing as he tried to control the ball. His team mates didn’t let him forget it.
The USA had not been firing on all cylinders in the 2019/20 World series so far. But with a nucleus of the side that enjoyed a stellar season last time out as they finished second overall, they were bound to click again at some point and do some damage. Unfortunately for Australia, they chose this game to do it.
They were helped by a terrible start for the Aussies as they conceded from the kick-off. Two-time World Sevens Player of the Year Perry Baker showed his all-court game to take Lewis Holland’s up’n’under in the air, before spinning away and up the touchline to fire it infield for Cody Melphy to go under the posts. They had a second inside a minute, a wide ball sending Danny Barrett down the flank, and the captain had too much strength to see off both Hutchison and Malouf, and find the supporting Baker for the run in.
Australia needed a foothold, and they got it from virtually their first attack. Maurice Longbottom was the architect, carving a path out wide before putting on the afterburners, and he had Holland backing up for a much-needed riposte. They looked likely to grab another when Hutchison broke clear shortly after the restart. But the Americans scrambled well, and terrific work over the ball from the powerful Martin losefo garnered possession to set-up a length of the field counter attack, finished off by who else? Baker.
Trailing 21-7 at the break, what the Aussies didn’t need was the introduction of Baker’s fellow sprint machine Carlin lsles. And they were soon in his wake when Kevon Williams tore a path across field, and the former US track athlete stepped and effortlessly burned his way across the line. It got worse. Lachie Miller – just on the field – spilled a pass forward as he tried to gather, and the ball fell kindly for Ben Pinkelman to send the ever-alert Baker scurrying into the corner for his hat-trick, although their appeared to be a knock-on from Pinkelman in the process.
Then the bruising Barrett barrelled his way forward at the expense of Joe Pincus, and lsles was on hand to finish near the flag. The Aussies simply couldn’t get their hands on the ball, and with dreams of a home title vanquished, Matai Leuta drove in the final nail to leave a scoreline of 43-7 in favour of the Eagles. Humbling indeed.
It’s not often you see the All Blacks Sevens fail to contest a semi-final. But a terrific display from Fiji the previous night pushed the kiwi juggernaut down into a play-off for 5th Place, against old foes Australia. The two sides had met just a week earlier in a final four clash in Hamilton, a game which the Aussies had led 14-5 before being overhauled.
Any hopes of a similarly positive opening to this game however, were dashed pretty quickly. The sudden downpour that passed through Sydney on Sunday evening made for some tricky handling conditions for both sides. But that couldn’t excuse a horrific start for the hosts, a lineout five metres from their own line seeing a pass spilled to the floor by Josh Turner, and the ball nutmeg Lewis Holland to fall loose for the alert Sione Molia to touch down.
Australia’s first foray upfield was then spoiled by another lineout debacle, Turner pinged for taking too long to put the ball in. Unfortunately, despite erring inside the kiwi 22, it still led to another try for New Zealand. Intriguingly taking the scrum option, the decision paid immediate dividends when Regan Ware hit a short ball to skittle three Aussie defenders and pin back the ears to go 70 metres. A harsh lesson.
They should have had a third when Molia broke through and tried to pass it wide for his skipper Scott Curry, when he should have just slid in and let the surface water do the rest. But they still enjoyed a 12-0 lead at the break, and Australia largely with only themselves to blame. However, a third try after the break was all their own creation. A lovely grubber in behind from Curry was brilliantly scooped up by Tone Ng Shui given the conditions, and he offloaded from the floor for Dylan Collier to go over.
Warming to the task New Zealand continued to ask all the questions with Australia barely able to lay a glove on their opponents. A nice wraparound play sent Ngarohi McGarvey-Black scampering across field, and when Blues powerhouse Caleb Clarke came back on the scissors, pity those entrusted with trying to stop him.
Credit to these Aussie boys though. Stuck behind their goal line in the final minute with the game well and truly gone and scant reason to continue playing, they showed plenty of fighting spirit to keep the ball alive. And when Longbottom fired it wide for Turner, the former Manly Marlin showed his true worth with a lovely show and go to put Lachie Anderson away down the sideline for a popular consolation score.
It also raised another $1500 for the Bushfire Fundraising Appeal, helping the tally along to a whopping $40,500 for the weekend. And that is certainly something worth celebrating.
AUSTRALIA 33 JAPAN 7
Tries: Lachie Anderson, Jeral Skelton, Josh Turner, Dylan Pietsch, Lachie Miller
Cons: Lewis Holland 2, Maurice Longbottom 2
AUSTRALIA 31 SCOTLAND 14
Tries: Maurice Longbottom 2, Henry Hutchison, Josh Turner, Lachie Anderson
Cons: Lewis Holland 3
AUSTRALIA 7 USA 43
Tries: Lewis Holland
Cons: Lewis Holland
5th PLACE MATCH
AUSTRALIA 7 NEW ZEALAND 24
Tries: Lachie Anderson
Cons: Lewis Holland