The Qantas Australian Men’s Sevens Team have fallen to arch rivals New Zealand 27-24 in a gripping finale to the inaugural HSBC Sydney 7s.
In front of a sell out crowd of 37,095, the Aussie men turned on a stirring display for their adoring home fans, leading their Trans-Tasman rivals throughout the contest until the visitors landed a cruel blow on full time to steal the win.
Across the weekend 73,313 fans entered the turnstiles of the HSBC Sydney 7s and fans were treated to an exciting atmosphere with colours and costumes that came from every corner of the globe, announcing Sydney’s arrival in the HSBC Sevens World Series as one of the hottest tickets on the Rugby calendar.
The absorbing Final delivered a fitting finale to a tournament that will leave a lasting legacy.
After a tournament in which the Aussies qualified for their first Final since London last year, Qantas Australian Head Coach Andy Friend said:
“They should be really proud of that performance. Two games against New Zealand and we accounted for ourselves well, but we’ve got to be better.
“The boys got a lot of belief out of the last two weeks, however we have to keep improving.
“It’s been an amazing weekend both on and off the field and for our team it’s been really special.
“There’s been a lot of great Rugby played for the Sydney crowd that’s turned up that witnessed an amazing two days. This is sevens rugby, that’s what it’s all about.
“If you look at the last four tournaments, the home crowd plays a major factor in the finals. The crowd definitely lifts you and I thought that Sydney was fantastic.”
Australia fended off some stern challenges on the way to the Final defeating England (17-12) and South Africa (12-7) to advance to the decider - a replay of the previous night’s Pool A clash which ended in a 17-all draw.
Against a battle-weary England in the Quarter Final the Aussies failed to take the ascendency early. In a tense opening few minutes both sides failed to capitalise on attacking opportunities as the tension within the stadium continued to build.
A set move from England allowed a barnstorming James Rodwell to steam through the Australian defence to score underneath the posts to open the scoring.
A try-saving tackle from Henry Speight at one end turned the match and before long Captain Ed Jenkins laid the platform for Lewis Holland to run around the English defence to score next to the posts to make it 7-7.
The second half saw both sides trade blows but it was England that struck first when skipper Tom Mitchell scored next to the posts to take the score to 12-7.
Needing a lift and with time running out, 18-year-old back Henry Hutchison provided the spark with a blistering run and dive into the corner to level the scores at 12-12.
Australia regathered the ball off the kick off and pounded the line for the remaining seconds of the match but with the clock against them, the result was to be decided in golden point extra time.
In a high collision contest there was no love lost between the two sides as they searched desperately to find a hole in each other’s defence. England had the advantage early, as the crowd - literally on the edge of their seats- held their breath as some desperate defence from James Stannard saved an almost certain try.
It was Hutchinson again who put the team on his back, diving over for the most important try in his career to send Australia through the Semi Finals with a 17-12 victory.
South Africa’s Blitzboks, the current series leaders, were always going to pose a difficult challenge however the men in gold slipped in to gear early and never turned down the pressure on their opposition.
Lewis Holland continued his excellent tournament scoring the first try after a Con Foley break to make it 7-0.
In an end-to-end affair, Australia continued to ask questions of the South African defence with bullocking forward Tom Cusack bashing his way through multiple tackles.
Australia patiently built pressure on South Africa with strong ball handling and eventually playmaker James Stannard cracked the Blitzboks for a second time, kicking the ball around the base of a ruck to regather and score in the corner taking the score to 12-0 just before half time.
The second half saw both sides play a territorial game as neither side wanted to defend in their own half. The South Africans registered their first points in the match through Kwagga Smith who darted through the defence to score near the posts taking the score to 12-7.
South Africa continued to chase the match but with the clock and the crowd against them James Stannard sent the ball into the stands and Australia into their first Final since May 2015.
In the decider, New Zealand applied the pressure on Australia early, but when Lewis Holland turned a ball inside to Cameron Clark it appeared the Aussies were going to break the early deadlock.
A desperate ankle tap grassed Clark, but the home team remained patient and broke through moments later through Hutchison.
On the attack again moments later, a loose ball by Australia on New Zealand’s line allowed the kiwis to go coast to coast with Rieko Ioane scoring between the posts and level the scores at 7-7.
A yellow card to Sonny Bill Williams was a big moment in the match, reducing the New Zealanders to six with moments remaining in the first half. The damage was almost immediately felt by the visitors with the one man advantage allowing Hutchison to score his second try and take the score to 12-7.
Australia had a momentary lapse in concentration off the kick off which allowed Kurt Baker to score in the corner on the cusp of half time, levelling the scores at 12-12.
The Aussies injected fresh legs into the contest and Lewis Holland again showed creative flair, throwing a looping pass into the hands of bench forward Sam Myers who charged into the corner to give Australia the lead.
The see-sawing battle continued to unfold with New Zealand equalling Australia’s score once again as Captain Tim Mikkelson broke free for an 80 metre sprint to the line to lock the scores at 17.
But Australia answered again coming from within their own half when Cam Clark punched through the line and found replacement back Greg Jeloudev who ran 80 metres, escaping New Zealand’s covering defence to score underneath the posts taking the score to 24-17.
With under a minute remaining New Zealand scored again through Rieko Ioane but were unable to convert the try, leaving the Australians in charge 24-22 with just under two minutes remaining.
Both sides didn’t relent in the dying seconds but a scrum in Australia’s territory enabled the New Zealanders to free their backs and Rieko Ioane crossed for his hat-trick as the clock ticked to zero.
Qantas Australian Men's Sevens results in Sydney, Australia, February 6:
Australia 24-7 Portugal, Pool A
Australia 26-12 Canada, Pool A
Australia 17-17 New Zealand, Pool A
Australia 17-12 England, Quarter Final
Australia 12-7 South Africa, Semi Final
Australia 24-27 New Zealand, Final
Final Placings for the HSBC Sydney 7s (Top 6):1. New Zealand, 2. Australia, 3. Fiji, 4. South Africa, 5. Argentina, 6.Kenya
Current 2015-16 HSBC World Series standings (Top 8 - after four rounds): 1. Fiji (69 points), 2. South Africa (69 points), 3. New Zealand (69 points), 4. Australia (54 points), 5. Argentina (54 points), 6.England (51 points), 7. United States (49), 8. Kenya (42 points).