Seven points from the Sydney 7s. - Green and Gold Rugby
Rugby

Seven points from the Sydney 7s.

Seven points from the Sydney 7s.

So it’s now three days since the Sydney 7s wrapped up with Gold Medals to both the Aussie Men and Women’s teams.  It was a remarkable series of performances by both of our teams that has me still buzzing days later.

As the unofficial opening of the Australian Rugby season this year I thought it apt to pause and reflect on some of the key takeaways of the tournament.

Killer D

‘They’ say that defence is 90% attitude, 10% technique.

This weekend gone goes a fair way to proving that statement.

Hot on the highs of their Rio Olympic Gold, the women’s team had a disappointing 2016/2017 World 7s Series.  They didn’t win a single event on the tour and their inability to contain their opponents was a big contributing factor in their failings.  The kiwis proved to be their bogey team while Canada beat them twice (including a 33-0 drubbing in Japan).  For a team that had set themselves such a high bar, it was a disappointing outcome and change would be needed to ensure they returned to the winner’s circle.

And whatever’s changed has worked.

There were glimpses in Dubai late last year, notably in the final where they smashed the USA 34-0. But nothing would prepare us for what we saw in Sydney. Over their six games the Aussies impressively amassed 213 points but incredibly conceded nothing. It was an unbelievable effort and the first time any team has gone through a World Sevens Tournament without conceding a point. Take a look at this video snippet and you can see the pressure they placed on their opponents.

That is simply remarkable rugby and given the expectation of more space on the field in a 7s game, that brick wall defence the Aussies built is incredible.

While the Men didn’t keep their slate clean it was clear that defence was a cornerstone of their success as well. Despite some solid work in keeping Perry Baker relatively quiet in their first game, the Aussies only just did enough to get through the Pool games undefeated.   But that’s when things changed.

Coach Andy Friend challenged the players to back their aggressive defensive structure, pointing out moments where they lapsed in the early games. As one, the players committed to back themselves and the results flowed.

An historic win over the kiwis was the first sign as the New Zealanders struggled to cope with the aggressive Aussies. Taking great confidence from this results the Men wouldn’t let another try in for their remaining finals matches.

They were clinical in defeating Argentina 28-0 but they went next level in doing the same to South Africa’s Blitzboks.  The Saffas have set the standard in recent years and nothing had indicated that they wouldn’t continue their roll against the Aussies. Nothing except the Aussies themselves.

They were relentless in D and never gave the space the speedy South Africans craved. No that’s wrong. It happened once when the Boks cleared from their line and Rosko Specman recovered and raced away for the inevitable try.

Inevitable it wasn’t though as 20-year old rookie Lachie Anderson chased him down and managed to force Specman into touch at the very last moment. 

It was indicative of the attitude of the Aussies throughout the 2nd day.

And you know what they say about attitude and defence…

Respect the Vets

It’s a young person’s game, Sevens, and if you look at some of the stand out stars of the Australian teams, you may think the same.

But I personally couldn’t get over the work of the ‘veterans’ of the Aussie teams this weekend past and just how crucial they were to the dual-success.

Let’s start with the almost 35 year old James Stannard who has recently announced that this would be his last year of rugby.  ‘Chucky’ was at his crafty best through the weekend and came up with some massive plays at key moments for his side.

There were two standout moments that spring to mind. One was the try to Charlie Taylor right on half time in the Quarter Final against the kiwis. The other was the below play in the Final which resulted in a try to John Porch.


What’s notable in each is the work that Stannard does to keep in play. The first was a set piece move which started from his own lineout throw which came back to him off the top, then a wrap around with Lewis Holland before he delivered a perfectly timed pass to Taylor to score on the other side of the field.

The above move was more from broken play and again Stannard ‘started’ the moved on the opposite side of the field yet stayed alive and ended up pulling out that brilliant kick for Porch to regather to score.

Both plays prove that his fitness is as good as anyone in the team, but his ability to execute under pressure was just as impressive.

In the women’s team we have co-captains Shannon Parry and Sharni Williams. Both are unique within their squad (1) for being closer to 30 than 20 and (2) for being from a rugby XVs background.  While Stannard has already declared time on his career, there’s no public talk yet on Parry and Williams. And it’s not that I am suggesting they should both move on. I am more concerned about what happens if they do.

In a team that thrives on the many and varied backgrounds of their squad through involvement in basketball, athletics, OzTag and touch, Parry and Williams have provided that point of difference that adds such value to their squad.

Sydney 7s Australian Women Shannon Parry

Aussie Co-Captain Shannon Parry holds the Cup (?) aloft!

One only has to have seen that first minute of play in the Grand Final where Parry snagged a brilliant pilfer to turn over possession. Pressure that soon resulted in Parry herself barging over for the opening try of the game and one that would set the scene for the next 13 minutes.

Coach Walsh uses the two exquisitely throughout the tournament starting Parry with Williams coming on at half time, if not a minute each side. It ensure the Aussies always had one of their inspiring, uncompromising leaders on the field at all time – standard bearers that may not get the kudos of some of the more high profile stars, but who are the foundation of this Australian team’s success.

Generation Next

The Australian Women’s 7s program has done an excellent job of bringing through the next generation of stars. Perhaps that’s a reason for the below par performances of last year but it’s starting to pay off now. The likes of Dom du Doit, Georgie Friedrichs, Demi Hayes, Page McGregor and Emma Sykes have been in and around the squad for a couple of years now with Sykes in particular looking world-class already.

The Men’s program have the challenge of battling Super Rugby (and overseas) for the hearts and minds of young rugby players.  Add to that the loss of the regular players Pama Fou, Cam Clark and Henry Hutchison to Super Rugby as well as Ed Jenkins to retirement, and Coach Andy Friend has had to rush the development pathway a little.

Australian Men Sydney 7s Ben O’Donnell

Ben O’Donnell – much loved

To the casual rugby fan the names Lachie Anderson, Tim Anstee and Ben O’Donnell may not have meant much prior to this weekend. But if those same casual rugby fans managed to catch a glimpse of any of the Aussie’s games this weekend, then they’d have been blown away by the talent on show.

Anstee and O’Donnell both ended up being named in the official Team of the Tournament while Anderson was named Player of the Final.  It is symbolic of the remarkable performances of these three young stars.

For a country that is often criticised for its lack of depth the performance of this relatively no-name squad was a perfect antidote to the negativity around Australian of late.

Under the Radar

Successful teams are made up of an amalgam of personalities, abilities and styles. Not everyone is going to be the crowd or media favorite, and by no means does everyone want to be it.  There are often the player who gets the job done for the team while only really receiving the platitudes from their coach or team mates.

John Porch and Evania Pelite seem like two of those players to me.

Back in 2015 Porch put in a handful of impressive performances for the North Harbour Rays in the NRC. From that he managed to make his way into the Aussies 7s program and begin his journey.  It wasn’t an immediate success as Porch perhaps struggled to adapt to the shorter game. There also seemed to be an experiment with him being groomed as an alternative playmaker to Stannard. In the end he know comes across as someone who is playing with the confidence of someone who knows there game and that was evident all weekend.

Sydney 7s Australian Women Evania Pelite

Evania Pelite getting it done!

Pelite  has been in the Aussie system a bit longer including being part of the Gold Medal winning Olympic Youth team in 2013.  For mine she was close to the player of the tournament in last year’s inaugural AON Uni 7s competition, playing for the unheralded University of Adelaide. She has always been a contributor to the team, but her play has really matured of late and she’s a vital cog in this machine-like team.

Where were the crowds?

In a weekend that provided so many wonderful memories, one of the least favourable were the thousands of empty seats evident on the broadcast. The three day tournament pulled in a crowd figure of around 56,000 this year which pales in comparison with last year’s 75,000 over two days.

So what happened? Where was everyone?

The move to the Australia Day weekend was a gamble but required because the ARU were adamant they wanted an integrated competition with the women, necessitating a three day competition.  The tournament effectively swapped with the NZ 7s comp (this weekend) to allow for the extended tournament structure.

Did the long weekend prevent attendance? Perhaps. Could it be related to rather foul stench that remains over most things Australian Rugby at the moment? More than likely. Is it a seemingly growing trend that has seen most sporting leagues attendance numbers (including the BBL) drop on previous years? Who the hell knows.  At least the ratings figures were ok.

Sydney 7s 2018 Charlotte Caslick runs Australian Women

Our stars deserve more of a crowd.

But what happens next? With Allianz Stadium to be pretty much rubble this time next year, we need a new venue. Rumours are it may head up the highway to Newcastle. It’s tough to know whether that will work without a concerted long term promotional push between Rugby Australia, NSW Rugby and the local key stakeholders.

It does pose the question whether this tournament should be rotated through cities across Australia to keep the product fresh and the crowd engaged. So far Adelaide, Brisbane and the Gold Coast have all had their turns without anyone really nailing it.  Sydney had a good couple of years but perhaps it’s time to start afresh.

Not quite gender equal

While the Men’s Grand Final kicked off at the prime time of around 9pm, the Women ran out for their finale about 6 hours earlier.  Just before the all-important 13th place playoff semi final between Canada and PNG.

Meanwhile, a day earlier, the women kicked off their finals campaign with a 10am kick off a good four and a half hours before the first men’s game and seven hours before the Aussie men would play. It makes it a big effort for supporters to cheer on both teams.

Sydney 7s Fans

Our Wonder Women deserve more

What’s the solution? Ben Ryan posed the question around changing the format to a knockout tournament! It would mean that the 13th place play-off matches would no longer take place. This would ultimately mean that not only would the women’s program be more easily accommodated alongside the men’s but also the three day tournament wouldn’t be required, thus easing the burden of host nations to cover three days of costs.

Rugby is an old school game though, particularly in administration. And while Sevens Rugby is relatively new, the concept of Cup and Challenge competitions is a throwback to the amateur days and potentially a hard one to shift.

New Dawn New Zealand

Last year we suffered through a terrible year of Australian Rugby v NZ. In Super Rugby we were 0 and 26 against kiwi sides. We lost the Bledisloe, despite the Brisbane win. The Women’s 7s lost to them (didn’t  beat them once in the World Series). They beat us in Australian Schoolboys.

They monstered us.

But here we are  – one whole month into 2018 and we are yet to lose to them.

Take hope Australia, take hope.

Sydney 7s Women's Grand Final

The rivalry continues

All photo credit to Keith McInnes.

  • Pearcewreck

    Great write up Reg.
    RE: The crowds, I’ll offer two points.
    1. My family and I went last year, but it was so hot, I struggled to enjoy it. I can’t imagine how hot the players must have been. I suspect many who went last year felt the same, and maybe that tipped them towards not going this year.
    2. Australia Day long weekend is not good timing, so much other stuff on, many people “get out ” of Sydney on a Long Weekend, not too mention a Cricket ODI on the TV as well. However, I am glad the ratings held up, especially as the tennis featuring possibly the greatest sportsman on the planet was on that night too.

    Both these problems can be saved by shifting to a date later in the year.

    Any way, it was a great weekend for Aussie Rugby.
    Maybe Raelenne Castle has the Golden Touch.

    • RugbyReg

      thanks for the insight.

      I hear there weren’t pass outs either this year which seems a really strange operational decision.

      • Xaviera

        Correct – no pass-outs. I too thought that odd.

  • RedSheep1989

    I’ve seen the explanation for the swap with the NZ tournament given so to give the women rest (“Rugby Australia requested the men’s and women’s competitions be fully integrated but to do this Australia and New Zealand had to swap their events to satisfy player welfare guidelines on rest periods between tournaments” see here: http://www.smh.com.au/rugby-union/union-news/the-700k-hit-rugby-australia-took-to-change-the-sydney-sevens-date-20180129-h0pyzt.html), yet their next tournament is in late April… and the men’s would have a tournament two weeks in a row regardless. Could someone explain how this reasoning makes sense?

    Also, I would definitely say the weather was a big factor in my non-attendance (and many other of my mates’). Having gone to the last two events and known what it was like all day, the humidity was not inviting. Sad, as today is almost cold!

    • RugbyReg

      it’s not to give the women a rest. It’s to give the men a rest. There needs to be a 5 day turnaround between events. If NZ was first, it would finish Sunday and then Sydney would start on Friday, which is just a 4 day turnaround.

      With Sydney first, the men get the Monday to Friday off as required.

      • RedSheep1989

        Ahh of course.

        Sucks but it’ll certainly be an issue in the future if integrated tournaments is the way of the future.

  • Metootootoo

    Thanks Reg, you’ve covered most of my observation from the weekend (I didn’t intend to watch so much but got drawn in – I did not watch the tennis until the men’s final was complete).

    The women were terrific and as you stress it was all built on defence – most of it in the opposition 22. The Kiwis looked great all the way through the tournament until – they met our girls. Then they looked like amateurs.

    The most telling moment about the impact of their defence was against the Russians – who got so frustrated that their captain lashed out with a boot catching one of ours in the head – luckily with no serious injury. She got away with on the field but missed the bronze medal game (at least).

    My only worry about the women is goal kicking – if it’s not dead in front the conversion rate is very low. However if you don’t let the other team score at all, it does not matter as much I suppose.

    The men’s defence got better as the tournament went on and the performance agains SA was just fantastic. I really thought it would be a game too far against the best attack in the game, but if you give them no space and very little ball (especially on restarts) what can they do.

    They avoided Fiji all tournament but have them in their group in Hamilton this weekend – so that will be an interesting test. Fiji were very up-and-down all weekend and mostly played well below par. I expect them to lift this weekend.

    Player of the tournament for me (both sexes) was Lewis Holland, as much for his captaincy as his excellent play. Watching the half-time huddles was fascinating. Friend mostly shut-up and let Holland lay down the law. Apparently there is an injury cloud over him for this weekend. Keep your fingers crossed.

  • Kiwi rugby lover

    What a great start to the year fro Australia Rugby. So good to see some positives, even if I am disappointed that we lost both games. Still I can’t take anything away from your guys and girls, they were awesome.
    I think the biggest issue with crowds was the dates and timings. So much going on over here for Australia Day – I was visiting relations up the coast – that the crowds just weren’t there. I personally think it needs to be a different day where there is less choice for the public.

  • Simon

    Agree that the heat is a major factor on crowd numbers. Daytime rugby in Australia in Jan/Feb is just stupid, for both players and spectators. The Brisbane 10s will suffer the same problem.

    If they must insist on scheduling the Australian tournaments for this time of year (and the 10s doesn’t really have a choice) then it needs to be played predominantly at night. Even that’s not ideal as even though the temperature drops a bit and the direct sun is gone, the humidity tends to rise towards evening.

    At least the 10s is shifting to a day-night format, but I think they will struggle with numbers. Last year I knew someone who had paid for a ticket and then just didn’t go, because it was 38 degrees that day. I got offered the spare ticket from a friend for free, and I declined too, because of the heat – I decided I was better off watching it on TV at home. If people are willing to forego the cost of a ticket due to the heat, it really should tell you need to shift the tournament.

Rugby
@RugbyReg

The original prop in a prop's body, but thankfully I have the rugby mind of a prop as well.

More in Rugby

  • Neutral November – Italy

    Last weekend’s round of November internationals was an amazing showcase of rugby and the Wales-Wallabies game. If...

  • Thursday’s Rugby News

    Thursdays Rugby News sees Cheika’s got an ally, Aus miss out on WRWC, The Rebels add to...

  • Wednesday’s Rugby News

    Wednesday’s Rugby News looks at the potential changes for the Wallabies, a star of the future is...

  • Tuesday’s Rugby News

    Tuesday’s Rugby News has a full update on the Women’s 7s Oceania championship, reactions to the weekend’s results, a...