The Qantas Australian Men’s Sevens team recorded their second best placing of the 2013/14 HSBC Sevens World Series season after finishing fourth at a packed-out Hong Kong Stadium on Sunday night.
Despite beating Canada in the Cup Quarter-Final, losses to New Zealand and Fiji meant Australia ended the tournament with 15 competition points.
Head Coach Michael O’Connor said: “This weekend in Hong Kong has been very successful for us, especially with it being our best finish in a decade over here. Fiji was a tough one for us – injuries to Tom Lucas, Cameron Clark and Greg Jeloudev left us down to eight players.
“The highlight of the tour [Tokyo and Hong Kong] has been Afa Pakalani making his debut for us in Japan while Cameron Clark has been getting better and better. He is in outstanding form at the moment.”
Skipper Ed Jenkins – who earned an Australian record-equalling 29th cap in Hong Kong – said: “We didn’t play very smart Rugby against Fiji and made too many mistakes. Overall though, we’ve got to be pretty happy with our footy over the weekend. Beating the-then number one side in the world South Africa last night took a huge effort and we are proud with how we performed.”
“Hong Kong is by far the biggest Sevens tournament and it was a fantastic experience to play in front of crowds like this. It is something the new players in our squad will never forget.”
In the 3rd/4th place play-off, Fiji proved just too strong for Michael O’Connor’s side as the short turnaround finally took its toll on the green and gold. A bright start from Australia saw Paul Asquith score early on after fine interplay from Afa Pakalani and Peter Schuster sent him clear.
However, three unanswered tries from Samu Saqiwa, Waisea Nacuqu and Benito Masilveu saw the enterprising Fijians pull clear. A late Peter Schuster break and touch down reduced the arrears but wasn’t enough for Australia to avoid a 21-12 loss.
The Aussies suffered its fourth defeat of the Series season to New Zealand as the All Blacks ran out 19-7 winners in the Cup Semi-Final.
Despite a promising start, Australia conceded the opening try after good work from DJ Forbes at the breakdown created a turnover that eventually saw Tim Mikkelson break clear. Another turnover saw Gillies Kaka catch the Aussies on the break to hand New Zealand a 12-0 half-time lead.
Afa Pakalani fended off the challenges of several Kiwi defenders to bring Australia within a try of their opponents. But Kaka, who had also been sin-binned late in the opening period for a deliberate knock-on, confirmed New Zealand’s place in the Cup-Final when he wriggled clear of a tiring Australia defence to score.
Australia earlier qualified for the Cup Semi-Finals after snatching victory from the jaws of defeat against a fast-improving Canadian side.
Canadian flyer Harry Jones scored early on after fine support play to give his country a 5-0 advantage at the break. Cameron Clark converted a Alex Gibbon try to hand Australia a slender 7-5 lead before Ciaran Hearn broke free down the left and touched down under the posts.
But with the last play of the game Cameron Clark and Afa Pakalani combined to send Paul Asquith through to level the scores. Clark drew breath and kicked the conversion to seal a nail-biting 14-12 win.
New Zealand, Australia’s conquerors in the Cup Semi-Final, reclaimed top spot in the 2013/14 HSBC World Series standings after deservedly beating England in the Cup Final (26-7). South Africa finished fifth after beating Wales (19-14) in the Plate Final.
Australian winger Greg Jeloudev was named in the Hong Kong Sevens Dream Team after a string of impressive performances – both defensively and offensively - over the weekend.
Final placing’s for the Hong Kong Sevens (top 6): 1. New Zealand (22 World Series points), 2. England (19 points), 3. Fiji (17 points), 4. Australia (15 points), 5. South Africa (13 points), 6. Wales (12 points)
Current IRB Sevens World Series standings with two rounds to go (top 6): 1. New Zealand (136 World Series points), 2. South Africa (129 points), 3. Fiji (112 points), 4. England (104 points), 5. Australia (87 points), 6. Samoa (64 points)
Follow the Qantas Men’s and Women’s Sevens teams with updates on Twitter @Aussie7s
Australian Men’s Sevens results in Hong Kong, 28-30 March:
Australia 28-14 Spain, Pool B
Australia 26-0 France, Pool B
Australia 10-7 South Africa, Pool B
Australia 14-12 Canada, Cup Quarter-Final
Australia 7-19 New Zealand, Cup Semi-Final
Australia 12-21 Fiji, 3rd/4th Play-Off