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By ARU Media Unit
The Qantas Men’s Sevens have defeated a powerful and resilient Samoan side 28-26 in the Cup Final of the Tokyo Sevens to claim Australia’s sixth-ever HSBC Sevens World Series title.
The result is the best finish for the Australians in the 2011/12 HSBC Sevens World Series and their first Cup win since May 2010, when they beat South Africa 19-14 in London on the 2009/10 circuit.
Previously this season, on a run that has been hampered by injuries, the Australians’ best result was a fourth-place finish at the inaugural Gold Coast Sevens – Fever Pitch tournament which kicked off the 2011/12 HSBC Sevens World Series.
Qantas Men’s Sevens Coach Michael O’Connor was elated with the result, having seen his players work hard for little reward in recent tournaments.
“We’ve really come a long way, it’s not easy to win a Cup Final,’ O’Connor said.
“They showed a lot of tenacity, courage and commitment against Samoa, it was an extraordinary final and I’m really proud of them.”
Contesting the final with just eight healthy players, the Qantas Men’s Sevens hit the field with guts and determination and went into the half-time break up 14-12 after Shannon Walker scored a double in only his second tournament of the Series. Walker’s tries were converted by youngsters Allan Faalavaau and Matt Lucas.
Damon Anderson extended his side’s lead early in the second half, with a conversion added by Lucas, before Australia were forced to weather a Samoan storm as they ran in two tries in quick succession.
Down 26-21 with four minutes left, the Qantas Men’s Sevens remained patient and following a solid build up an outside run by Captain Ed Jenkins levelled the scores, leaving Lucas with a difficult conversion attempt to take the lead.
Kicking from near the sideline, Lucas slotted the shot with nerves of steel and in the process delivered the Australians a two-point lead just seconds before the final siren sounded.
Lucas, competing in only his second tournament with the Qantas Men’s Sevens, credited exhaustion with eliminating any butterflies he may have felt before the deciding kick.
“Being so tired probably helped, I had a clear mind and thankfully it went over,” Lucas said.
“To win the Cup is something we’ve been striving for, there’s not much better than that.
“Twenty minutes is a long time in Sevens and we just had to maintain our composure. We stuck to it and backed ourselves.”
Qantas Men’s Sevens Captain, Jenkins, was with the side at their last Cup win back in 2010 and said the fresh faces in the squad have continued to impress him.
“It was a great performance from all the boys and some pretty impressive individual performances from the likes of Matt Lucas and Sean McMahon,” Jenkins said.
“That performance was pretty special, considering we only had one reserve player on the bench, that’s pretty special.
“These young guys are stepping up, they’ve got a few tournaments under their belts and they really played well today.”
Day two of the Tokyo Sevens saw the Australians secure two solid wins on their way to facing Samoa in the Cup Final, first defeating Wales 21-14 in the Cup quarter-final, before beating England 33-12 in a clinical semi-final performance.
On day one, the Qantas Men’s Sevens emerged from Pool B in second place, with two wins and one loss, which saw them move through to the Cup playoffs.
In their opening game of the tournament the Australians emerged 17-14 victors from a close contest with Hong Kong thanks to tries to Faalavaau, Con Foley and Jenkins, along with a conversion to Lucas.
The Qantas Men’s Sevens then met the United States in a one-sided affair, with Dan Yakopo scoring a double to lead his side to a 15-0 victory. Faalavaau added to his tally to score the remainder of Australia’s points in their second game.
In their final pool game, the Australians took an early lead against their trans-Tasman rivals New Zealand with an unconverted try scored by Jenkins, but two tries to the Kiwis saw Australia chasing a 12-5 deficit at half-time.
The game opened up in the second half with New Zealand going on to a 22-10 win with Australia’s only try in the second half scored by Jenkins.
McMahon, Yakopo and Walker notched tries for the Australians in the quarter-final against the Welsh, with the sure foot of Faalavaau successfully converting all three to contribute to the 21-14 decision.
In the Cup semi-final, the Qantas Men’s Sevens started the game with fierce defence and never let up against their English opponents. Faalavaau opened the scoring, converting his own try to take Australia to 7-0 two minutes into the game. Australia scored twice more, through McMahon and Walker, with Faalavaau hitting both conversions to take a 21-7 lead at half-time.
It was a similar story in the second half, with Australia outscoring the English two tries to one, when Jenkins and Anderson crossed the line. The lone successful conversion for Australia in the second half was kicked by Lucas.
The Qantas Men’s Sevens side will now take a month break from competition before returning to the HSBC Sevens World Series circuit for the remaining two tournaments in the 2011/12 season, with Glasgow on 5-6 May and London on 12-13 May.
The squad will use the time to recuperate and assess the injuries of a number of players before entering into a number of camps throughout April ahead of the final two tournaments.
For a full wrap up on ALL the results from the Tokyo 7s click here
Fans of Rugby Sevens will be able to feel closer to the Australian team than ever before when the new jerseys go on sale from today (Monday, 8 September).