Aussie men looking to strike delicate balance in Olympic qualifier

Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

It’s not often teams feel their intensity needs to be toned down but Aussie Sevens captain Lewis Holland says that’s exactly what his team needs to do as it vies for Olympic qualification.

There is no ignoring the stakes in this week’s Oceania Sevens, with the winner in fiji securing a spot in Tokyo, but it’s an element that can’t cloud their approach.

Australia’s men have never lacked in intensity but Holland felt sometimes their eagerness to impress early got the better of them.

“If you just train, you kind of don't really get in the flow of it, then when you go to play you want to just get out there and go 100 miles an hour and sometimes it's not the best because you get four people on the sideline where there should be one person,” he said.

It’s that which he said was a factor in their disappointing campaigns at the Rio Olympics and the World Cup in San Francisco.

Tom Cusack in action at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Photo: Getty ImagesThere is as much pressure on the team this week as in any tournament in the last two years and Holland said they would heed the lessons of the past in Suva.

The team has been using preseason to play various invitational tournaments and run a string of internal trials that Holland said would help turn down their desperation somewhat.

“The blokes from Rio will probably have that feeling because our first game we were a little bit like that, same as the World Cup in San Fran that we kind of, we were a little bit too eager to get to things instead of just being composed and a bit more, just fall into the game speed, rather than trying to chase the game.”

Holland has been here before - in 2015 the men had to win the Oceania tournament in New Zealand to qualify for Rio.

The challenge was arguably greater back then, with Tim Walsh acting as a caretaker coach after the surprise resignation of Geraint John, but they managed to take the win over Tonga in a lopsided final.

While many teams preach the “it’s just another tournament” line, Australia has put the Olympic carrot squarely in focus and prepared to deal with that pressure rather than try and shut it out, Holland said.

“This is basically the ticket to the biggest sporting event in the world, so there is a lot of hidden pressure,” he said.

“We've done a lot of stuff back here at training whether working out how people deal with different pressure situations, how they compare for games, on the field as well, we've been making sure those pressure moments, if it does come down to a kick or it does come there we need the ball back et cetera.”

Holland is confident the side has left nothing to chance in its preparation, with months to analyse their opponents and perfect their approach after the end of the 2018-19 World Series.

“We know there's going to be a massive physicality side to these games so we've prepared ourselves for those, we've been in here resting on the mats and bashing each other,” he said.

“So it's just about making sure we're comfortable playing our game plan and we understand what we're coming up against and I think we do and how we can use our game plan to disadvantage those guys.”

Australia opens its Oceania Sevens campaign on Thursday November 7 against Vanuatu at 11:06am AEDT, LIVE on the Oceania Rugby Facebook page.