It was a massive weekend in Sydney for Rugby with the second running of the Men’s HSBC Sydney Sevens World Series.
What enhanced this year’s experience for fans and players alike was that a leg of the Women’s Series had been added to the fixture.
The three day rugby carnival did not disappoint both in terms of the performances on the field and the crowd support off the field.
At the final count there were two new teams battling for supremacy in the Women’s competition and South Africa yet again put the score on the board when it counted.
So what did we learn from a hot weekend in Sydney?
Aussie youth cannot be underestimated
Having now used 22 players over four tournaments – including ten debutants - coach Andy Friend is certainly blooding new talent to build long-term depth in the Aussie squad.
With six teenagers running out in Sydney and nine of the 12 selected players having less than five international caps to their names, contesting the Cup semi-final on Day Two was an impressive feat by any standard.
The Aussie men could not have hoped for a better scenario to play out as expectations had been tempered by not only the lengthy injury list, but also the squad’s inexperience, youth and lower placings in the last two tournaments.
To put their best foot forward and show the potential of future talent under the scrutiny of a sometimes cynical media and dismissive home crowd, could not have played out better for the ARU and the profile of Australian sevens rugby.
Being World and Olympic Champions does not guarantee success
In a somewhat bizarre twist, the Aussie Women who were expected to shine in the historic first home tournament off the back of their Olympic success, proved this usually dominant squad is not infallible.
Missing the chance to advance to a tournament final for the first time since round four in Langford last year seemed to take the wind out of their sails.
It was a shock from which they did not recover when running out against old foe New Zealand for the bronze medal playoff.
While every team can have a ‘bad day’, for a stumble of this calibre in performance terms to come on home soil was disappointing to all concerned.
Tim Walsh admitted that the pressure of the occasion had taken a greater than anticipated toll on the group and that while the players were devastated, this tournament would serve as a major lesson leading into Las Vegas.
Scotland and Canada learned success can be fleeting
For all the plaudits received out of Wellington, Scotland and Canada were not able to follow up the previous week’s performances.
Scotland was surprised by an enthusiastic young Aussie team during the pool stage.
Once that match was lost, the path to a successful day two became very rocky with New Zealand waiting at its end.
Canada was also left to rue errors which lead on day one to a win, a loss and a draw followed by a significant loss to Japan in the bottom eight quarter finals.
The Maple Leafs will be working hard to recapture their Wellington form ahead of their hometown tournament in Round Six.
Big crowds are possible for Sevens in Oceania
The 2017 Sydney 7s drew well over 75,000 people across the three days of the combined men’s and women’s tournament.
This number is building to rival Hong Kong and Dubai which both get over a 100,000 fans across three days.
The difference with these two is that they also host qualifying and invitational tournaments around their World Series events.
Sydney has proven for a second consecutive year that there is a place for sevens rugby in the Australian sporting landscape.
The crowd was colourful, vocal and well behaved overall.
While Wellington continues to be a talking point for all the wrong reasons, Sydney has also underscored the popularity of sevens in the region with the most prominent and visible fan base being the Fijian supporters.
Seabelo Senatla – a draw card who will be missed
The victorious South African team celebrated the tournament win with great joy but also with a tinge of sadness.
Senatla, one of the most prolific players – by every measure – and appreciated across the sevens fan base, has played his last game for this series.He leaves while sitting on top of the try scoring lists for both this Sydney tournament and the series overall and he sits third on the Series Performance Tracker.
And just for good measure - he was awarded Player of the Sydney final
The successful dual tournaments in both Dubai and now Sydney will set a high bar for the next round’s hosts in Las Vegas where both fixtures will again combine next month for a big three days of Rugby Sevens action.