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After a nail-biting extra time victory against Argentina in the Plate semi-final, Australia have just failed to overcome England in the Plate Final of the latest round of the HSBC Sevens World Series which finished in Las Vegas on Sunday (local time).
It was a mixed performance for Australia in the tournament, starting with a 31-7 lost to New Zealand on the first day before bouncing back to beat the highly-rated Fiji 22-21. On the second day a 26-7 win over Scotland saw them in to the Cup quarter finals where they were narrowly beaten by Samoa 12-10, thanks to a last minute try.
This meant Australia’s first game on the final day was against Argentina in the Plate Semi-Final.
The match started poorly for Mick O’Connor’s team with Diego Palma showing surprising pace to get around Peter Schuster and score outwide to put the Pumas up 5-0. When Lucas Maguire barged his way over from close range two minutes later Australia found themselves down 12-0 with lots of work to do.
But as he has done so often in the tournament Allan Fa’alava’au, who reminds of a young Benji Marshall, sparked Australia to life with a break down the left hand touchline. He then fed a neat pass inside to Jesse Parahi who in turn found Greg Jeloudev who raced away to score. The conversion by Cameron Clark was missed and Australia trailed 12-5 at half time.
Parahi broke through to score outwide two minutes into the second half and Clark landed a superb conversion to bring the scores level but a converted try to Joaquin Paz a minute later put Argentina back in control 19-12 up.
A magnificent 70-metre solo try from Shannon Walker, converted by Clark evened it up moments later and with just seconds remaining the match went into sudden death extra time.
Again superb play from Fa’alava’au in extra time saw big Sam Myers find a gap and he in turn slipped Schuster in for the winning try. Australia 24-19 winners in extra time and through to the Plate Final where they would meet England.
The team then received a boost with Cameron Clark honored for his strong performance over the weekend being named in the tournament Dream Team.
In the Plate Final Australia started well against England regaining the ball from the kick-off but a mistake gave the ball back and Tom Mitchell sprinted away for the first try. Mitchell converted his own try to make it 7-0 to England.
Australia hit back immediately after a great break from Con Foley set up a try for Clark, his fifth of the tournament, before England scored again through Jeff Williams.
But Australia had the last word in the first half with the ball going through the hands for Schuster to score in the corner, finishing off some sustained pressure. Clark landed a superb conversion from the sideline to tie it up 12-12 at half time.
England were also set to start the second half down to six men with Phil Burgess yellow carded just before the break.
But England turned their man-down to an advantage scoring tries through Marcus Watson and Mike Ellery to make it 26-12 before their seventh player came back on the field.
Australia weren’t done yet. A quick tap and break from Fa’alava’au put Jeloudev away for a try and a stunning long range effort from Walker saw Australia down just 26-24 as the siren sounded.
However Australia could not re-claim the final re-start and England held on to clinch the Plate.
“I think we did really well to come through the pool stage and get in the Cup quarter-finals” said captain for the tournament Con Foley, “but two disappointing games against Samoa, which was a really close game, that we let slip, and again there against England. We just lost it at crucial times in the match and they ended up getting over the top of us.”
“I think it’s just crucial moments that we let slip by,” he continued pointing out where Australia need to improve. “A couple of missed tackles. They cut through our defence a few times. That shouldn’t be happening but if we can clean up those little bits of the game it will take us a long way.”
“We definitely hope (we can do well in Wellington) and play in more Cup semis and Cup finals.”
One of Australia’s best over the weekend, Fa’alava’au, was humble about his performance. Despite just returning from injury he was constantly dangerous in attack.
“I wouldn’t say (I’m in) good form” said Fa’alava’au, “but it’s good being back and I need to get my fitness up.”
“We still didn’t win but hopefully next week we get another chance of hopefully playing a Cup Final or Cup semi.”
When asked what the difference was between reaching the final stages he said: “I reckon it just comes down to how much we want it, determination. Hopefully next week we get another crack and do well.”
Asked for his appraisal O’Connor said the team had “certainly improved from the last tournament (in South Africa) and if we can improve so much for the next tournament I think we’ll be contenders.”
“Overall I was pretty happy. We had a lot of close games and the only real blowout was the New Zealand game.”
“The re-start has a lot to do with it (the team improving)” he continued. “There’s an element of bounce of the ball (to losing close games) – you’ve got to get the right refereeing decisions.”
“The trend is the teams are getting bigger and that’s a definite advantage at the re-start and with the ball carrier. On a (narrower) field like this (in Las Vegas) it’s a significant advantage, I think, to have big strong ball carriers. Certainly England have those, New Zealand have got them.”
O’Connor said the week break before the next tournament in New Zealand would help the team.
“We have a week off from playing, (which is good) because we’ve got a few bruised boys. I thought some of our team work was exceptional in attack, our support play, our offloads it’s just little areas of the game that are letting us down we need to work on.”
And in some good news for Australia, O’Connor confirmed that he was hoping to have captain Ed Jenkins back for Wellington.
The Australian men’s team now move on to Wellington in New Zealand on February 7th and 8th for the next round of the HSBC World Series.
While the Australian women’s team, fresh from their title in Dubai, will be in action in Atlanta on February 15th-16th in the next round of the IRB Women’s Sevens World Series.
HSBC Sevens World Series – Las Vegas
Day 3 Results
Australia 24 (Greg Jeloudev, Jesse Parahi, Shannon Walker, Peter Schuster tries; Clark 2 conversions) defeated Argentina 19 AET (Diego Palma, Lucas Maguire, Joaquin Paz tries; Gaston Revol 2 conversions) at Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas. (Half time: Australia 5 – Argentina 12; Full time: Australia 19 – Argentina 19) (Referee: Rhys Tomas [WAL])
Australia 24 (Cameron Clark, Greg Jeloudev, Shannon Walker, Peter Schuster tries; Clark 2 conversions) lost to England 26 (Tom Mitchell, Mike Ellery, Marcus Watson, Jeff Williams; Mitchell 3 conversions) at Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas. (Half time: Australia 12 – England 12) (Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen [RSA])
Over 500 young men and women had the opportunity to show off their skills and athleticism yesterday, as the Australian Rugby Union’s Search for a Star took place across the country looking to identify players who may have the potential to represent their country in Rugby Sevens.