Aussie sevens teams battling a 2022 come down with slow burn start to new year
First things first. We had a great time at the Sydney Sevens with a three day attendance of over 66,000. Apart from the excitement of the games, the stadium is tremendous and the crowd, especially the Fijian and Irish supporters, had a wow of a time. It really had a fun vibe.
Also a shout out to 12 year old Abbie’s digital platform Her Way, she did a outstanding job on the socials promoting the women’s games and interviewing a range of players.
After a busy and successful 2022, in some ways 2023 has been a bit slow in getting going. 2022 was all World Series title wins (men and women), throw in a Commonwealth Games and World Cup there was a lot going on.
This season for most teams it is primarily a focus on qualifying for the Paris Olympics, that is, finishing in the top four of the World Series. The men’s Series is becoming a real battle to take out the World Series title. On the women’s side you would have to say New Zealand are well and truly in the driver’s seat.
Let us cut to the chase, neither Australian team will be happy with their performances in Sydney. Arguably the women crashing out in the quarter finals was the more surprising disappointment. In short, really do not know what went wrong.
Let us start with the men.
The men’s World Series has never been so competitive. In previous years you could almost guarantee Fiji, South Africa and/or New Zealand would be in the final. This season we have had South Africa win in Dubai, Australia in Hong Kong, Samoa in South Africa, Argentina in New Zealand and New Zealand in Sydney. What this has also meant is that the battle for the top four Olympics qualification is fierce.
Even though the Aussie men took out Hong Kong after a couple of poor results they have now dropped to eighth. Not where they want to be. There are five more tournaments to try and get into that top four qualification. Based on the last couple of tournaments it is going to take a pretty special effort to do that.
To add to the challenge Henry Hutchinson succumbed to a knee injury and could be out for a while. Hopefully captain Nick Malouf will be back soon. They miss his straight running go forward. On a positive note, some of the players are really developing, like James Turner and Darcy Lancaster.
As John Manenti said, as a team they have to grind out their wins. They aren’t the biggest or fastest but work hard as team. All effort. The Aussie men are not one of the glamour sides.
As for the Aussie women, I’m really not sure where to start. I do not like using the term ‘flat track bully’ but in some ways it applies. They can beat up the lesser teams and put on an absolute clinic which is great to watch.
There is no doubt the team is full of superstars. It just seems when they are up against the bigger, more physical teams, they struggle to assert themselves. Previously,. their superior fitness meant they could run those teams off their feet. Maybe they are trying some new structures with Paris the focus.
Over the weekend it seemed their handling was not up to its usual level which is critical when they play such an up-tempo game.
After demolishing Ireland in the final pool game Demi Hayes was saying they knew what France would bring, a physical approach and referenced the French women’s 15s approach to the rucks. But even with this knowledge they were unable to counteract it.
There was a controversial yellow card to Charlotte Caslick but that was not why they lost. In saying all this they did come back in the fifth place play off and beat Fijiana who they usually have a real problem with.
So there is a bit of work to do.
Two take outs. The New Zealand women with their 15s women back are an absolute force again. They have been able to blend experience with some absolute new young guns. On the Aussie women’s team Teagan Levi is going to be a real dynamo and expect her to be getting more minutes, being mindful she is only 19. She has some real attitude in defence and attack. You know the players, the ones who like to put on a hit.
Next up. The men are off to Los Angeles next month. The women have a bit of break and back on deck in early March at the Vancouver sevens.