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By ARU Media Unit
The Qantas Men's Sevens side has fallen agonizingly short of a Bowl final win at the Las Vegas leg of the HSBC Sevens World Series after injury took its toll on the Aussie squad.
Australia looked set to clinch the Bowl final on Day 3 of competition, but a last-minute try allowed Canada to steal a 19-17 win. Despite the loss, the Australians moved to sixth in the World Series rankings, one up from where they were placed at the conclusion of the Wellington Sevens last weekend.
The tournament was a difficult one for the Qantas Men's Sevens team as the side, laden with youth, was forced to play under strength for the majority of the tournament when injuries ruled out Dan Yakopo and Ed Stubbs after just the first day of competition.
Speaking from Las Vegas following the Bowl final, Qantas Men's Sevens coach Michael O'Connor said while disappointed with the result, he couldn't fault his young team for their efforts.
"We're very disappointed. It was a game we had in the bag and they scored in the corner right on fulltime,” O’Connor said.
“Our guys tackled and tackled and tackled, they played courageously but they were just out on their feet in the end.”
O'Connor believes his side will be better for the loss, as they continue to learn from their experiences.
"We had some elementary mistakes from some guys,” O’Connor added.
“The only way you learn is from experience, we are the most inexperienced and youngest side on the circuit, with a couple of 18-year-olds and a 17-year-old.
“It's understanding that there'll be areas that need improving, but experience is everything."
The Qantas Men's Sevens side advanced to the Bowl side of the draw following a tough run in Pool A, with initial losses to New Zealand, 31-5, and Samoa, 19-15, however Day 2 saw improved performances as they closed the pool stage with a 10-7 win over Japan before dominating Brazil 50-0 in the Bowl quarter final.
Day 3 was opened by the Qantas Men’s Sevens side with a 19-14 win over hosts United States, sending the Aussie men them through to the Bowl final and a physical encounter with the Canadians.
Australia opened the scoring in the final, with tries to Pama Fou and new recruit Allan Faalavaau securing a 10-7 lead at half time.
However the Canadians started the second half with some ferocious attack that saw them take a 14-10 lead early in the second half.
Not to be outdone the Qantas Men’s Sevens side struck back quickly after a Jordan Tuapou try and successful conversion by Pama Fou saw the Aussie regain a slender lead 17-14 with just a couple of minutes left on the clock.
Despite some solid and at times desperate defence in their own 22 during the final stages of the match, the Qantas Men’s Sevens side could not hold Canada out with the North Americans scoring the game-winning try in the corner on the buzzer.
With long-term goals in mind, O'Connor knows not to put too much weight on the result of the past two Bowl finals.
"The experience from this weekend is really important for the younger players,” O’Connor said.
“I'm confident in the base we're building, we've got young players in the squad at the moment and the work we're doing now will pay us back in the future.”
The sixth-place finish means Australia is seeded in Pool B for the Hong Kong leg of the tournament, something which O'Connor believes will allow for a better start to the tournament.
"Las Vegas was always going to be tough for us as we were in the same pool as finalists Samoa and New Zealand.
“Hong Kong will be tough, but finishing sixth on the Series rankings is a lot better than seventh, in terms of the draw."
The Qantas Men's Sevens side now has six weeks to prepare for round six of the HSBC Sevens World Series in Hong Kong, which runs March 23 to 25. The pools for Hong Kong will be announced on Thursday February 16.
Tom Kingston was nearly a Sevens player five years ago, just as he entered the professional rugby ranks.