Speed-king Shannon sets sights on Tokyo

by RUGBY.com.au staff

No sooner had Day One of the 2015 Hong Kong Sevens last weekend finished had World Rugby released a short video package of Shannon Walker's return to action.

The Australian Sevens excitement machine from Kyogle was back!

Geraint John's side was cruising to victory at 26-5 against Portugal before Walker collected the ball just inside the opposition's half. The 26-year-old slalomned his way through the tiring opposition defence to score a signature try and put the icing on the cake.

Walker had been out of action for 14 months after suffering a serious ankle injury following the Wellington leg of the Sevens World Series last year. Despite the disappointment of a Cup Quarter-Final exit last weekend, a disappointment tempered by late victories over England and the USA in the Plate competition, Walker was just happy to be back out on the paddock.

"I got through the tournament pretty well and my foot didn't flare up or anything. I'm pumped to go this weekend and get back-to-back tournaments under my belt.

"We're all looking forward to the weekend in Tokyo and preparations have been good. We've had a good couple of sessions already and we have a day off today to do a bit of sightseeing but we're definitely all looking forward to a big weekend and we're hoping that we can go all the way. But our first priority is to focus on the pool stage.

"I think I add a different style of play to the squad which gives us a bit more variety. Last weekend I came off the bench and managed to catch a few other teams napping."

The Aussies earned many plaudits through the weekend in Hong Kong last time out, particularly in their defensive performance against series leaders South Africa. After five and a half minutes of knocking on the try-line door, Werner Kok eventually crossed over for the Blitzbokke.

"Defence is something the whole team, and in particular the backs, have definitely been working on. At the end of the day, defence wins games."

Tokyo's Prince Chichibu Memorial Ground was the venue of Australia's last Sevens World Series success. A side boasting five of the current squad - Ed Jenkins, Allan Fa'alava'au, Jesse Parahi, Greg Jeloudev and Walker himself - took out the tournament after a see-saw weekend. Coached by Michael O'Connor, Australia started their campaign slowly with a narrow 17-14 win over the unfancied Hong Kong, before serving up an improved performance against the USA. New Zealand accounted for the young Aussie side, but the team re-grouped to defeat Wales on Day Two in the Cup Quarter-Final.

The Cup Semi-Final saw Australia turn in their best performance of the weekend to beat a talented England side (33-12) that included Sevens stalwarts Tom Mitchell, James Rodwell and Dan Norton. In the Cup Final against Samoa, the lead changed hands several times, with Walker scoring twice, before Ed Jenkins locked up the scores in the final minute of the game. Ben Lucas subsequently slotted over the conversion to give his side a memorable 28-26 win.

Tokyo has been a happy hunting ground for Australia over the years. The city has hosted a leg of the Sevens World Series on five occasions (2000, 2001, 2012, 2013 and 2014) and to date the men in green and gold have won the title once (2012), finished runners-up (2001) and third (2013) and reached another Cup Semi-Final (2000).

"I don't really know what it is about Tokyo that seems to bring out the best in us," said Walker. " I was fortunate enough to be apart of the squad that won in Tokyo a few years ago, it's a totally different atmosphere to Hong Kong but we can't wait for it. Back then it was raining, but this weekend it's looking dry and it should be fun to play.

"We slowly built momentum over that weekend back in 2012. We had a few players go down with injury but we stuck in there somehow and managed to come through with the goods. It was only my second tournament and was pretty fresh for me and I wasn't really aware of the hype at the time.

"It was one of those tournaments where everything, including the bounce of the ball, seemed to go our way."

A similar result to 2012 this weekend in the Land of the Rising Sun will give Australia a stranglehold on that all-important fourth spot and automatic qualification for Rio 2016.