Aussies rise but Boks steal the show in Vegas

by Jill Scanlon

The HSBC World Series USA 7s tournament has lit up the strip in Las Vegas and South Africa is again in the spotlight.

The Blitzboks sealed the victory over Fiji 19-12, denying the men from the Pacific a chance at a third consecutive USA title.

The Australian Men’s team has finished in sixth place in Las Vegas topping off another weekend which showed the rebuild is well on track.

Coach Andy Friend, although disappointed with the final result, can see the positives emerging.

“Overall, we’re disappointed to get sixth position, however I am really proud of the effort of the guys,” he said.

"We need to get better at finding that winning edge. We’re playing some good Rugby but we’re just not doing enough to get over the line of the top teams and we need to be better at that.”  

Now at the halfway point of the World Series with five rounds down and five to go, Australia  now has three placings within the top eight to outweigh the disappointing results from Cape Town and Wellington.

The reason would seem to be that the new young talent Andy Friend has blooded is gaining more confidence with every game.

Using that ingredient to mix with the tried and tested experience which creates stability within the squad seems to have given Friend a workable recipe on which to build future success.

That element of experience was enhanced over the weekend by the return of former captain Ed Jenkins and the inclusion of two long-time team members, both of whom have been sidelined with injury for extended periods.

Nick Malouf and Tom Lucas could have been excused if they had needed to take a few games to get back into the hectic pace set by the Sevens circuit.

But excuses were obviously not part of their game-plan as they both stepped up from the outset in Vegas and put in effective performances on the field.

The final day began for the Aussies with a battle against Argentina in the playoff match to see who would fight for fifth place.

In a surprising move, captain Sam Myers and stalwart James Stannard started on the bench as Friend put his confidence in some of the new talent in the squad ably led on the field by Jenkins, Malouf and Lucas.

The infamous wind which blows off the desert and up the length of the Sam Boyd Stadium made its presence felt and conditions were tough.

Australia played a tight game and starved the opposition of possession early on.

19 year old Lachie Anderson has had a weekend to write home about and he continued that form as he scored the only try of the first half.

Seven points up and the Aussies had the wind at their backs after the break.

Alex Gibbon ran half the field to put in a second try giving Australia a 14-0 lead, which would be the score at the final whistle.

Australia’s error count was minimal and their performance was measured, playing to the conditions, and giving the newer members of the group a good run.

The playoff for fifth against England was intense with both teams hard in at the tackles while struggling with the conditions.

Bowen scored first for England which Nick Malouf answered just before the half-time siren, running in under the bar after a great offload from Lachie Anderson.

The conversion directly in front and close in gave the Aussies a two point lead at the break.

The second half was a battle at the breakdown with most of the play in the middle section of the pitch as each team battled to hold possession.

When the final hooter sounded England had secured a turnover.

A smart grubber kick by Dan Norton allowed a chase in his favour but right at the line he passed off to 19 year old debutant Charlton Kerr who dotted the ball over and snatched a 10-7 win from Australia’s grasp.

Aussie coach Andy Friend was quick to point out that a fast turnaround in fortunes is the nature of the game of sevens.

“I thought we had done everything we needed to (against England). Credit to England, they had 20 seconds and 80 metres to go and they got there. We did that to Scotland the other day, that’s the game of Sevens,” he said.

THE FINAL

The Blitzboks have been in every final this series but were very nearly robbed of that honour in the semi-final at the hands of the eventual Bronze medallists, the USA.

The hosts led 12-10 at half-time but with the lead changing more than once in testing conditions, South Africa eventually secured the victory 20-17, ensuring yet another Cup final berth.

Coach Neil Powell credited his team’s ability to keep cool heads under pressure.

“The guys did well to keep composure even though we were 12 points down,” he said.

In the second semi-final between regional rivals Fiji and New Zealand, the contest was intense from the start - the first score coming from a penalty try and a yellow card against Fiji for a dangerous high tackle.

New Zealand was up 14-0 early in the game and led at the break 14-5, making the better use of the conditions.

But Fiji can never be underestimated and scored 19 unanswered points to snatch the win from under the Kiwis’ noses.

RESULTS

Challenge Trophy

Kenya defeated Samoa 21-14.

Bronze Medal

USA defeated New Zealand 19-15.

Gold Medal

South Africa defeated Fiji 19-12.

Australia finished 6th

Next up

Next week the action moves to Vancouver in Canada for Round Six of the World Series and the second leg of the North American pair.

While Fiji chases South Africa at the top of the World Series rankings, it is the movement below that is becoming the more intriguing scenario with the USA jumping from eighth to sixth.

The Aussies’ Las Vegas result moves them up one spot to fifth in the rankings and they will be no doubt looking for a repeat of this weekend’s big performance from the tournament’s top try scorer Lachie Anderson who made the Las Vegas Dream Team.

England will be looking to regroup while others simply want to better their performances with each tournament.

Australia has the USA to face in Pool play in Vancouver and may be looking to use the fast improving Americans as another test of their developing abilities.

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