Australian sevens at crossroads after more heartbreak in Singapore

Mens - Singapore
by Iain Payten

Glimpses of fight and potential. But too many mistakes and missed tackles, and yet more heartbreak.

The Australian men's sevens team have continued their season-long problems in another finish outside the top five at the Singapore Sevens, after crashing to England in the quarter-finals and fumbling a chance to snatch their first win over New Zealand in over a year.

Entering day two with confidence off the back of an undefeated Saturday, the Aussie side were looking to push past the quarters and make only their second semi-final of a majorly disappointing season.

But despite fighting back from 12-0 down against England to level at 12-all, Australia's defence then went missing and conceded three tries to let the game - and hopes of a semi-final - slip out of grasp.

The Australians then faced up against the old foes from across the ditch in the fifth-place semi-final, and again a slow start left and some woeful defence left the Aussies fighting an uphill campaign.

They went down two tries early, but stayed in the fight with a Jeral Skelton try and another to Josh Coward two minutes after the first half hooter.

Capping a strong tournament, Maurice Longbottom then stepped up and scored twice in the second half to have the scores level at 22-all with time running down.

The Aussies had the chance to win when Simon Kennewell toed a kick ahead for a try with time up but he fumbled the re-gather, which sent the game into extra time.

A breakdown mistake by Australia saw New Zealand scoop up the loose ball and race in through Tim Mikkleson for the win.

The flare of fight against New Zealand was a bright moment - joining similar efforts in the win over Fiji in Las Vegas and beating South Africa in Sydney - but it served again to highlight the contrasting gloom of the hugely disappointing quarter-final performance.

The Australia’s men’s sevens team is at something of a crossroads.

They’re no longer a hope of finishing in the top four and qualifying automatically for the Olympics, and will instead have to qualify through the Oceania qualification tournament in November, as they did for 2016.

That won’t be a walk in the park, however, with Samoa now in very strong form and are ranked above Australia (7) in sixth.

The last-chance saloon global repechage will be tough, too, with many good European sides due to be still scrapping, like Ireland, France, Spain and maybe even Great Britain.

Australian coach Tim Walsh has some very big decisions to make about the direction he takes, and the fifth-placed playoff team he fielded may give a strong indication of what is in his mind.

Some of the Aussie team's senior players have been badly out of form this season and, despite their long-term contracts, run the risk of not being in the Olympic campaign. Faith shown by Walsh and work done to toughen players up mentally has not yielded results.

In injury or design, the team that took on New Zealand had a fresh look to it, with the likes of Lachie Miller, Joe Pincus and Josh Coward looked hungry and undaunted.

The emerging talent, combined with the reliably dynamic Maurice Longbottom and Jeral Skelton, and hard-working skipper Lewis Holland, could be the key to recovery for Australian sevens. Expect to see more of them in the final two tournaments.