The HSBC Sydney 7s World Series tournament has been run and won by South Africa.
The Blitzboks sealed the victory over England in the final 29-14, after they defeated Australia and New Zealand respectively in the semis.
The Australian Men’s team has finished in fourth place rounding out an outstanding weekend for the young squad, showing their potential for the future after recording some remarkable wins over the last two days.
Andy Friend began this World Series by making it known the Aussie squad was in a serious rebuilding phase but would be targeting a top eight finish at every World Series competition as a key objective.
While finishing fifth in Dubai, the squad was disappointed with performances in Cape Town (11th) and Wellington (10th) where both injuries and inexperience took a toll.
After an impressive quarter final performance against Wales where the Aussies kept them scoreless finishing 26-0, Andy Friend attributed the win to the team’s work in defence.
“Again I thought our defence set the tone. We’ve been working really hard on that defence and trying to shut down opposition’s time and space, and I thought we did that well there so that was really pleasing,” said Friend.
While a place in the semis would not have been realistically contemplated pre-tournament, Australia was now faced with a big South African mountain to climb.
The very young team ran out on the park again missing regular tournament captain Sam Myers due to a shoulder injury suffered on Day One; but being led in his place by wily veteran James Stannard.
In a rematch of last year’s semi-final, South Africa showed their characteristic speed and finesse early on to score under the posts in the opening minute. The Aussie men responded with a gutsy run from Tim Anstee who scored in the corner to a roaring Australian crowd, closing the gap to 5-7.
While disappointed with the loss, Andy Friend was pragmatic about the reasons for it.
“Discipline hurt us today. But they’re young blokes, they put their bodies on the line and that’s all you can ask,” he said.
“We need to get stronger which we will. We’ve got 18 and 19 year old boys out there. - Andy Friend
“It’s Game 5 of a two day tournament and there are tired bodies out there and they’re learning what those bodies have got to go through.
“So I was really proud of their effort and we will get stronger in time.
“Our target was quarters so to get into the semis I’m really pleased and really proud of those young blokes.”
With the semi-final loss, the battle for the Bronze medal became a rematch of Australia’s opening Pool game against old foe New Zealand.
A lack of early possession hurt the Aussie men, as New Zealand raced in two early tries.
Debutant Lachie Anderson countered to score the first try of his HSBC World Series career, reducing the gap to 12-7.
However the Kiwi attack responded swiftly adding another seven points as the half-time siren sounded – the score 17-7.
A quick try to start the second half had the intentions of the Kiwis clear.
A battle for possession followed with Australia eventually finding the try line through debutant Brandon Quinn for his first HSBC World Series try.
It was unfortunately too little too late. The Kiwis added another converted try and the Aussies were forced to accept a valiant 29-14 defeat.
Andy Friend was delighted with the improved performance of his young side, which featured nine players with less than three international caps to their name
“I’m really proud of them, and the first-timers all impressed me,” he said.
“They showed some really special touches and it wasn’t through lack of effort that we didn’t get further.”
33 year old James Stannard put in a massive performance leading his young charges by example but insists he just lets them get on with it.
“I try and just play my own game and let those blokes play footy. That’s the best thing you can do for young kids coming in is just let them shine,” he said.
“They’re there for a reason and they’re good footy players.”
Stannard added the obvious outcome from the weekend is that they grew as a team.
Day Two in Sydney was notable for its surprise results.
The marked improvers out of Wellington, Scotland and Canada, crashed and burned in Sydney with failures to make the final eight on Day Two and losses first up in the quarter finals – eventually finishing the tournament in 15th and 13th place respectively.
For these two teams it will now be a matter of regrouping for Las Vegas.
Fiji was the other shock result early in the day when it missed out on a semi-final berth, losing in the quarters to New Zealand 24-21.
It took fifth place with an emphatic win over the USA 35-12.
Challenge Trophy – Russia
Bronze Medal – New Zealand
Silver Medal - England
Gold Medal – South Africa
The next two rounds of the Sevens World Series are in Las Vegas and Vancouver in March.
The women will again join the Men in dual tournaments in Las Vegas.
Australia will be preparing for rejuvenation to its playing stocks with some players anticipated to be returning from injury.
Whatever the Australian squad selection next month, the new young talent has proven this weekend it is ready and eager to perform when needed.