Sevens: Manenti pleased with 'benchmark' set in Colorado

Womens - Colorado
by Emma Greenwood

Sevens coach John Manenti says Australia will focus on honing its defence heading into the final Sevens World Series rounds of the year in Dubai and Cape Town after their strong start to the season.

Australia made the final of the season-opener in Glendale, Colorado, last weekend and while they lost a physical final to the US 26-7, showed they had made great strides from last season.

Leading into their Olympic gold medal defence in Tokyo next year, the Aussies are out to regain their reputation as one of the most fearsome sevens sides in the world and have made significant strides towards that in a tough off-season campaign.

That bore fruit in the opening round of the world series last weekend, where the Aussies went through the preliminary rounds unbeaten, before posting shutouts of Russia and France in the quarter-final and semi-final.

Emma Tonegato takes on a Spanish defender. Photo: World Rugby

Manenti said the goal heading into Glendale was to set a benchmark for the season and the Aussies had done that - not just by reaching the final but in the way they played to get there.

"Physically I felt we were in great shape. It was a vast improvement on 12 months ago when we got to Colorado and I felt the girls were one of the fitter, if not the fittest team there," Manenti said.

"Our skill and speed was evident in attack and we've just got to keep working hard on the defensive side of the games.

"We showed great improvement, obviously, holding Russia and France to zero on day two was really significant for us and probably in the end, the weight of possession and some bigger bodies in the US girls took its toll on us but we played with a lot of courage and we launched ourselves at them and we've just got to keep getting better in that area there."

While the final looked to be a blowout, Manenti said the result was "probably the rub of the green" after an early penalty in possession when he had felt the US "were just about to break".

"You could see their body language was nervous in the sense of how they were going to stop us there - and that (penalty) gave them a possession inside our 22," he said.

 

"We defended really hard for two or three minutes and eventually it was a weight of numbers and size which took its toll.

"Most of their tries came inside the 22 in almost a XVs-style scenario where they just launching big bodies at us.

"We kept aiming up and kept hitting them and sometimes we fell off, but we kept aiming up and having a crack.

"It was probably a game where we did have missed opportunities - we probably should have scored off a couple of line breaks we made and didn't - and a couple of 50-50 calls may have gone against us, but that's football too and they're a really good side."

The US beat defending World Series champions New Zealand to make the final, as they did in Biarritz earlier this year, marking themselves as one of the teams to watch.

"But we also know we're not far away," Manenti said.

Charlotte Caslick had a hat-trick against Canada. Photo: Getty Images

"France beat them in this tour and we accounted well for France (40-0). That's the nature of sevens - possession, time with the ball, what you do with that ball if you score and get a run-on, you can blitz a game.

"We certainly feel that we're not a long way away from them but we have to be smart about how we play them."

After an injury-disrupted season earlier this year, Charlotte Caslick lined up in Colorado at full fitness, showing what a pivotal piece of the puzzle she will be for an Olympic title defence.

"Charlotte was outstanding, I thought she was probably the player of the tournament," Manenti said.

 

"I'm always biased around our girls but I thought she was really impressive in every game, with and without the football.

"Emma Tonegato was a constant threat, I think she scored nine tries, but made lots of line breaks and Sharni Williams had a great tournament, Vani Pelite had a great tournament.

"I thought Cassie Staples, in easily her most minutes she's had at a world tournament was really good, and she's shown the fruits of all her hard work over the last two years.

"For us to be successful we need plenty of girls putting their hands up."

But it wasn't just the familiar faces that shone. Youngsters including debutant Madison Ashby impressed and Manenti is encouraged by the depth at his disposal.

 

"The young girls - Madi on her first tour had some significant minutes and learnt an enormous amount from the trip and Rhiannon Byers continues to grow," he said.

"Shannon Parry was super fit and made some great impact for us.

"So we need to have the squad strong, we need to have multiple girls, not just the top girls, we need a lot of girls competing for positions and pushing each other.

"We've still got half a dozen girls at home who are injured and pushing their way back  and a couple that have been playing Aon (Uni 7s), so we're feeling really comfortable with the strength of our squad at the moment."