The Aussies were very good, but just not quite great at the Perth SVNS
First up, it was a terrific decision to move the World Rugby’s SVNS Series to Perth. From afar, the east coast, it looked like it was well attended, a good vibe, weather not too hot and the rugby was good. You cannot ask for more than that.
Now to the rugby.
The Aussie Sevens: Men
Sure, it was disappointing to lose to Argentina in the final (again). On a positive for a bunch of self-described ‘misfits’, making two consecutive finals is a huge effort that should be recognised. While the Pool stage was pretty poor with two losses, they still got through to the quarter finals.
The knockout stages were more than solid. After losing to the USA in the Pool stage, the Aussies turned it around and won 31-7 in the quarter final. To then beat Fiji 22-7 in a helter-skelter game was enormous. You just do not want to get into a that sort of game with the Fijians.
Coach John Manenti has put together a hard working gritty squad, not with the flash of a Fiji or Argentina, but a quality team.
Over the weekend the Aussie men showed a range of characteristics that indicate that they are continuing to develop.
The squad has depth, they do not lose anything when the subs come on. Many of the players are rugby players who make the right decisions at the right time, not just athletes. For example Hayden Sargent, Maurice Longbottom, Ben Dowling, Henry Hutchinson, Josh Turner and Matt Gonzalez can all interchange as play makers.
The team showed good game management over the weekend – showed against Fiji when they took a penalty goal to increase their lead to two scores. Then in the dying minutes, Longbottom was able to kick it into touch right on the Fiji line.
In the Fiji semi final they did make some errors like poor restarts, kicking out on the full, not making the ten metres. Traditionally against teams like Fiji they could not afford those sort of errors, but they now seem to be able to recover, regather themselves and stay in the game.
To make note of a couple of players, Longbottom has really stepped up in recent times. Historically he was a flashy twinkled toed attacker, these days he has added solid defence. For a small player he made a few crucial tackles and has a good kicking game, plus his short and long passing game is beautiful to watch. His short pass to Nick Malouf for a try was a gem.
The other player who is great to see in action is Melbourne player Darby Lancaster. In simple terms, he is big and fast. I imagine even though he is part of the Rebels Super Rugby squad he will be in the Olympics squad. Last mention goes to Henry Hutchinson, who had a very good return tournament after recovering from an ACL injury. It is good to have him back.
The Aussie Sevens: Women
Let us just say the women’s tournament was a tad chaotic.
By the final, Australia were down on players and started to look a bit tired. If Teagan Levi did not come off with a head knock I think they could have hung in there and got the win against Ireland, but it was not to be. At the same time, congratulations to the Irish, who played a very smart game to get their first title.
In rugby sevens there is little room for errors and one or two moments can make a difference. It may be a poor kick, missed tackle or a card. Sometimes teams can be good enough to overcome some critical moments and other times those moments can add up.
In recent times the Aussie women have been able to overcome a few challenges, but red cards unfortunately create issues that last longer than a moment. Under the circumstances Australia fought hard, but it was not quite enough.
The cards meant players had to play more minutes than would have been planned, affecting who you have available on the bench and your subs strategy. Eighteen-year-old debutant Heidi Dennis ended up getting a lot more minutes than she probably expected.
Also on the bench you had Kaitlan Shave, who only debuted back in Dubai. Throw in Bienne Terita’s ankle injury from the semi final. She was out for the final at the same time Maddi Levi was unavailable due to a red card, leaving the Aussie women without two critical strike weapons in the final.
As coach Tim Walsh said, they have a bit of a disciple issue. Getting two red cards and then a yellow card in the final was too much. The Levi sisters need to lower their body height in the tackle. Without any insight whatsoever, it seems players are trying to ‘up’ their physicality with a more upright tackle technique. No doubt that will have to be addressed in the coming weeks.
Going back to moments, in the quarter final Kiwi Jorja Miller received a red card in the first 30 seconds of the game, that turned the game in the Aussies favour even though they were without Teagan Levi. Miller would have to be one of the best players running around on the sevens circuit. Unfortunately Maddi Levi replied with another red card which not only impacted the game but then put her out for the rest of the tournament.
Despite all of this adversity, the women came mighty close to winning the final which is a reflection of the quality of the squad. Well done to them and the coaching staff.
I appreciate I sound like a broken record, but Alysia Lefau-Fakaosilea’s value cannot be rated high enough. Her ability to draw in two tacklers and offload and her work over the ball for turnovers is crucial to the team. It allows the creative guns and speedsters to do their thing. Quite often her involvement changes a game for the team.
All in all, it was a good weekend for both the women’s and men’s teams. You cannot complain too much about silver medals, it’s just that gold medals would have made the weekend great.