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By ARU Media Unit
Injury to three players has forced the hand of Qantas Men’s Sevens coach, Michael O’Connor, to make late changes to his Australian squad for this weekend’s Tokyo Sevens tournament.
The defending champions of the Tokyo-based event, the Qantas Men’s Sevens head into the seventh round of the HSBC Sevens World Series with a significantly different squad to that which finished as Plate semifinalists in Hong Kong last weekend.
Regardless, O’Connor expects his players to do everything in their power to defend the title they won last year with a 28-26 win over Samoa in the Cup final.
“This is a tournament we won last year and we want to retain that title,” O’Connor said.
“It doesn’t add pressure, but it certainly adds an expectation on the guys.”
Both Sean McMahon and livewire Shannon Walker were injured during the Hong Kong Sevens and follow up medical treatment determined they would not be fit for the weekend, while a further blow was struck when prop Ben Adams injured his knee during training in Tokyo.
The three will be replaced by an uncapped trio from Sydney who caught O’Connor’s eye while competing for their club sides during domestic Sevens tournaments earlier this year.
Peter Schuster and Sam Figg, both from Northern Suburbs, and Paul Asquith from Southern Districts are set to make their international debuts this weekend thanks to some strong Club performances.
O’Connor said he hoped his side could overcome the disruptions and the new players would seize their opportunity.
“It’s challenging but this is a great opportunity for these new guys,” O’Connor said.
“Hong Kong was quite a gruelling tournament and these guys are fresh, so that might be just what we need.”
The Australian coach said it was also a big benefit that the players had prior Sevens experience with their club sides.
“It’s great to see clubs taking sides to the domestic tournaments,” O’Connor said.
“It certainly helps us identify players and it’s good to have them getting the experience so they’re not too green when they come to us.”
All three players impressed O’Connor while playing for their clubs and further proved their worth when invited to train with the Australian Sevens squad.
Figg’s journey to international Sevens is remarkable, considering just two years ago he was playing Suburban Rugby with Barker Old Boys, before making the move to Northern Suburbs’ Colts team last year.
“All three guys have been training with the squad. They’ve worked hard and they impressed me,” O’Connor said.
Australia (ranked 11th) will face England (10th), Argentina (8th) and Samoa (3rd) in pool play in Tokyo, a pool which O’Connor knows will be a difficult task for his young side.
“They’re three tough games,” O’Connor said.
“It’s going to be a challenge, but we’re looking forward to it. We gave away too much cheap possession in Hong Kong and we lost our composure in the crucial games.”
The Qantas Men’s Sevens have had a tough run against England this season, losing both their previous encounters, 40-12 in the Shield final in Dubai and 26-21 in the Bowl quarter-final in Las Vegas.
“England performed really well on the second day in Hong Kong and got some big wins against quality sides, they’re playing really well so that’s going to be a strong opening game,” O’Connor said.
Australia and Argentina have traded results so far this season, with the South Americans earning a 17-14 win in the Plate semifinal in Dubai and the Aussies gaining a 12-5 win in pool play in Hong Kong last weekend.
“Argentina are a very gritty, structured side,” O’Connor said.
“Our games with them always come down to the wire.”
The recent history between Australia and Samoa is significant, with the sides meeting five times in the current season.
The Australians have won three of their most recent encounters, with a 12-7 victory in the Oceania Sevens Championships final last year, along with 26-7 and 26-14 wins in South Africa, in pool play and the Bowl final respectively.
Samoa won contests in Las Vegas, 28-7 in pool play, and Hong Kong, 12-5 in the Plate semifinal. The biggest match between the two sides in the last year was the Cup final in Tokyo, where the Australians gutted out a two-point victory to top the tournament.
“Samoa are always a threat and they weren’t far off the mark in Hong Kong,” O’Connor said.
“My expectation is for us to try our hardest to defend our title.”
The Qantas Men’s Sevens kick off pool play against England at 12:00pm (AEST) Saturday 30 March, before taking on Argentina at 4:07pm (AEST) and finally Samoa at 7:35pm (AEST). Fox Sports will televise a highlights package of the tournament on Tuesday 2 April at 9:00pm on Fox 3.
Australian Sevens recent milestones
Reached 200 points for Australia in Hong Kong (currently at 205 overall)
Australian Sevens upcoming milestones
Needs three games to reach his 100th game for Australia (currently on 97 games from 17 caps)
Needs six points to reach 100 for Australia
Needs 10 points to reach 200 for Australia
Qantas Men’s Sevens Tokyo squad
View the bios for the Qantas Men’s Sevens squad for Tokyo
Canberra Royals, ACT
Jesse Parahi (C)
Northern Suburbs, NSW
Peter Schuster (debut)
University of Queensland, QLD
St. Ives, NSW
Sam Figg (debut)
Queanbeyan Whites, ACT
Paul Asquith (debut)
Southern Districts, NSW