A young Qantas Australian Men’s Sevens team finished fifth at the Wellington Sevens, as they build towards next weekend’s HSBC Sydney Sevens.
The Aussies fielded a relatively inexperienced team in Wellington, captained by veteran James Stannard, but managed to pull out their best finish of the HSBC World Series so far with a Plate Final win.
With the pools for the Sydney leg decided by Wellington’s placings, the higher their seeding from the New Zealand tournament the better for Australia.
It was a disappointing start to finals day for the Aussies, going down 26-14 to South Africa in the Cup quarter-final, in similar circumstances to December’s Cape Town tournament.
While they were shifted to the Plate competition, Australia’s stand-in captain James Stannard had plenty to celebrate in the semi-final, becoming Australia’s highest points scorer of all time, surpassing Peter Miller’s 631 points.
That record effort was a highlight of their 17-5 Plate semi-final win over an improved USA.
The Americans, with a lineup that includes the series’ fastest player Carlin Isles, challenged Australia, with a Madison Hughes try evening things up early on before the Aussies pulled away.
Stannard set the tone for Australia as the finals day wore on, producing an industrious performance in their 21-5 Plate Final win over Argentina.
It was their youth that showed some promise as well, though, with teenager Henry Hutchison scoring three tries in just his second World Series tournament.
Speedster Greg Jeloudev finished with five in Wellington, one of the standouts for Australia throughout the two days, while Tom Lucas showed his tackling efficiency in his return from injury.
The side is expected to make a number of changes ahead of its home tournament, with captain Ed Jenkins, back Cam Clarke and Wallabies Henry Speight and Quade Cooper set to be included in the Sydney squad.
Interim coach Scott Bowen said Wellington had been critical in developing the depth of the squad.
Bowen will hand over to permanent coach Andy Friend for the Sydney 7s, Friend’s first tournament in charge.
“I think overall we were coming with a reasonably inexperienced team with five guys who played less than five tournaments.
“So for us we certainly have developed the depth of our squad.
“This side will continue to develop particularly with a new coach starting and we need to put ourselves in a position where we can regularly beat the top four,” he said.
“The performances of some players has meant they have put their hands up for selection next week at the HSBC Sydney 7s.”
Australia will have one injury concern heading into Sydney, with Stephan Van Der Walt's day ending early after injuring his shoulder.
New Zealand took the overall Wellington Sevens win, beating South Africa 24-21, with Joe Webber scoring a try after time had expired.