O'Donnell sidelined but Aussie men confident Hamilton bronze can launch Sydney gold

Mens - Sydney
by Iain Payten

The Australian sevens team will be without star attacker Ben O’Donnell for the Sydney 7s this weekend and scans on a knee injury could spell out an extended stint on the sidelines.

But with a fit-and-firing Lewis Holland in dominant form, and the emergence of new man Josh Turner as a playmaker, Aussie coach Tim Walsh is still confident the team can turn the momentum of a solid New Zealand tournament into a win at the Sydney 7s.

The Aussie men’s team haven’t won a title since that famous Sydney Sevens drought-breaker two years ago, and their bronze medal in Hamilton was only their third time on the podium since that 2018 win.

But despite Australia losing twice in Hamilton, they were both narrow - and avoidable - defeats against powerhouses Fiji and New Zealand.

Walsh believes the Aussies are currently on pace but effectively beat themselves in those two games - which can be rectified.

"Fiji are a great team but we felt like we beat ourselves a bit there,” Walsh said.

"We went away from what we wanted to do against Fiji and paid the price.

"And New Zealand in absolute top form, the depth they have, the x-factor and the consistency they have is great. And we did everything but beat them, in New Zealand.

"So 100 per cent we believe we can win (in Sydney). But it’s a brutal game sevens, it’s cut throat and the way this format is, literally every little point and every minute can make the difference between playing in the top four and playing in the bottom eight.

"We know we can beat any team, so do we believe we can go out and do the job in Sydney? Yep. Just like every tournament.

"But it is easier when you have momentum and you have that self-confidence in the back of your mind, that’s that mental side of things.”

O’Donnell hurt his knee in the semi-final against New Zealand and looked in serious pain when he was helped from the field.

He is no hope of playing in Sydney and there will be plenty of crossed fingers when the scan results come back.

"He’ll have scans at home - it looks like he will be a little while and he certainly won’t be playing in Sydney,” Walsh said.

"We hope it is not too long term, but we’ll have to wait on the scans.”

The one upside is that Walsh has plenty of playmakers and attacking runners in his squad, all hitting good form.

Henry Hutchison played one of his best tournaments in a long time in Hamilton, and while Maurice Longbottom found a few cards, he is consistently dangerous. Lachie Miller is also a hugely promising player.

But it was Holland and Turner who shone brightest for the Aussies.

Holland was playing in his first tournament after being replaced as skipper by Nick Malouf, and whether it was causation or only correlation, the veteran wound back the clock with an imperious weekend.

“Lewi had a fantastic tournament,” Walsh said.

"He has been working hard physically. You’d think it (the captaincy change) played some part I guess but not a whole lot affects Lewi. He is a very strong individual, which is why he is a leader.

"He is getting quicker, he is very resilient, he is lean and fit and strong, and when you have a fit, strong Lewi - in the right frame of mind - he is world class. We are trying to create that environment for him where he can do that. He had a great weekend for us.”

Turner, a former New Zealand under 19 sevens star who moved to Australia in 2016 to play for Manly, was also excellent.

In only his third tournament - Turner signed with the sevens squad last year but only received his passport this year - he started most games and had a hand in a large percentage of Aussie tries. He bagged a hat-trick against Samoa.

"We have been working hard at trying to build that (playmaker) depth and we signed Turner a fair while ago, to fill out that depth and that void. He has got his passport now, so we can inject him and he is just going from strength to strength,” Walsh said.