Blistering heat and being reduced to five men for almost a minute wasn’t enough to stop the Australian men’s sevens from staying unbeaten on day one at the Sydney Sevens.
With the mercury hitting over 40 degrees at Bankwest Stadium, Australia cruised past Japan in their first game but found themselves in a deep hole in the second half of their later clash against Scotland.
With Henry Hutchison already in the sin-bin for a high tackle, Josh Turner was binned as well for a knock-down and Scotland’s penalty try drew scores level at 14-all.
Australia survived 50 seconds with only five men, and when they got back to six, Maurice Longbottom stepped up and scored a crucial try.
The Aussies went on to score two more tries and finish with a 31-14 win, and with major pool rival USA up on Sunday morning, averted a potentrial early crash out of their home tournament.
Coach Tim Walsh said he was “massively pleased” with his side’s maturity and composure to dig themselves out of a hole.
"Last year we probably would have lost that to Scotland but this year you end absorbing it, and scoring, and scoring another one and the score ends up pretty decent which is important in this event where the for-and-against is vitally important,” Walsh said.
"We have been really working hard on controlling momentum and when it is going against us, how to claw it back, and when you are down to five players … to score with six and not let them score was really great from the team, and it was off the back of great defence, so I am really pleased with that win. Really pleased.
"A lot of it comes down to experience and putting yourself in that position, and a lot of these guys have been in this team for three or four years now, and being in those positions and coming away with wins is vitally important to momentum.”
With Sydney Sevens following the same straight semi-finals format as Hamilton, Australia have to beat the similarly unbeaten USA to progress.
"The USA, from what I have seen, they’re in form. They’re piling on the points, so we have to play a pretty strategic game and bring the attitude that is hopefully going to propel us into the semis,” Walsh said.
The baking temperatures saw a forecasted crowd of 15,000 look much lower, with most people seeking shelter out of the heat.
The Aussie teams, both men and women, both welcomed the heat, however.
"The conditions definitely aren’t easy but we are probably one of the teams who are most suited to it,” Anderson said.
"It’s our backyard here, we are not making any excuses there, so if anything we are trying to use that as a bit of an advantage, keep to our gameplans and keep to our structures.”
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9:10PM - ROUND TWO WRAP
Fiji have finished day one with a resounding win over New Zealand, all but knocking the Hamilton champions out of the semi-finals race in Sydney.
South Africa, the USA and England are on top of their respective pools but there is still an enthralling final round of pool matches to go.
Fiji - 6pts +35
New Zealand - 4pts +28
Wales - 4pts -44
Kenya - 2pts -19
South Africa - 6pts +5-
France - 4pts -5
Argentina 4pts -31
Samoa 2pts -14
USA - 6pts +56
Australia - 6pts +43
Scotland - 2pts -35
Japan - 2pts -64
England - 6pts +54
Spain - 4pts - 31
Canada - 4pts -7
Ireland - 2pts -16
6:10pm - AUSTRALIA vs SCOTLAND
Australia's men will face USA in a shootout for a semi-final spot on Sunday morning after a 31-14 win over Scotland on Saturday.
The Australians started the game defending for two minutes but finally got some ball and Henry Hutchison scored the opening try a minute later, skimming his opposite number on the left wing in a well-finished seven-pointer.
Scotland responded soon after, however, when Sam Pecqueur got his arms free in a tackle and set Robbie Ferguson on a 50-metre run to the line.
Scotland kept up the pressure but a turnover on the Aussie line saw Lewis Holland get the ball and set sail upfield, and he found Hutchison in support, who in turn fed Josh Turner for a try and a 14-7 lead.
That was the score at halftime and things got tough for Australia upon resumption, when Hutchison was binned harshly for a high tackle.
Another yellow card, this time against Josh Turner for a deliberate knockdown, meant the Aussies' disadvantage was compounded with six men on the field and a penalty try handed to Scotland.
It took some brilliance from Maurice Longbottom for Australia's woes to be eased.
The speedster took off from the base of a ruck and scored Australia's third to give them a seven-point lead with two minutes to go.
Longbottom had time for one more score to ice the match but even that wasn't the final chapter of the clash.
A clever cross-field kick from Lewis Holland gave Lachie Anderson the match sealer and a crucial points-difference booster with the last play of the game.
Australia take on the USA on Sunday at 11:29am AEDT in their final pool match with the winner progressing to the semi-finals.
Tries: Longbottom 2, Hutchison, Turner, Anderson
Cons: Holland 3
Tries: Fergusson, Penalty
12.45PM AUSTRALIA vs JAPAN
Australia cruised to an opening 33-7 victory over Japan to get their Sydney Sevens campaign underway with a minimum of fuss.
As Olympic hosts, Japan are an invitational side on the World Series in 2019-20 and while they were spirited, they were no match for the Aussies in their five tries to one win.
Lachie Anderson opened the scoring for Australia after one minute had elapsed, finding space on the left after the flying forward had earlier gone on a barrelling run upfield, carrying several men.
Japan used the rolling maul from a five-metre lineout to try and score against Australia soon after but a turnover saw Josh Turner scoot upfield, and he found Jeral Skelton out wide to race in a second try.
Turner scored himself for Australia’s third, after the halftime break, when Jesse Parahi provided a long Harbour Bridge assist in his 50th tournament for the Aussies.
Dylan Pietsch scored Australia's fourth and a beautiful centre kick from Maurice Longbottom saw Lachie Miller score the fifth try soon after.
Japan got on the board after the final siren for a consolation try.
Lachie Anderson said the Australians were happy with their first win.
"We speak always about the first game of a tournament and then building on to the next one and the next one," Anderson said.
"Obviously the format of this competition, you drop one game you can be out the back door. To be able to go out there and get some good points for our for and against, and set ourselves going forward at a very good pace, the boys are very happy.
"We have a five hour break until the next one and we are expecting a dog fight (against Scotland) for that one."
ROUND ONE WRAP
South Africa flexed their muscle in dispatching Argentina 52-14, just a week after the South Americans beat New Zealand in Hamilton.
All other title contenders posted wins in an upset-free first round of games, with the USA, New Zealand, Fiji and France all clocking up wins.
The Fijians struggled the most, perhaps, in a 28-14 win over Kenya, with the Africans proving a dogged rival in defeat.
Australian Men's Sevens for Sydney 7s
1. Henry Hutchison, Randwick, 29 caps
2. Dylan Pietsch, Randwick, 15 caps
3. Jeral Skelton, Brothers, 17 caps
4. Lewis Holland (vc), Queanbeyan, 49 caps
5. Lachie Miller, Randwick, 9 caps
6. Joe Pincus, Easts (Sydney), 9 caps
7. Josh Turner, Manly, 3 caps
8. Jesse Parahi, Norths (Sydney), 47 caps
9. Trae Williams, 2 caps
10. Nick Malouf (c), University of Queensland, 37 caps
11. Maurice Longbottom, Lloyd McDermott Rugby Development Team, 17 caps
12. Lachlan Anderson (vc), Eastwood, 24 caps
13. Luke Morahan, Bristol Bears, 6 caps
11:57am - USA vs Scotland
12:19pm - Australia vs Japan
12:41pm - Argentina vs South Africa
1:03pm - France vs Samoa
1:25pm - Canada Ireland
1:47pm - England vs Spain
2:09pm - Kenya vs Fiji
2:31pm - New Zealand vs Wales
5:24pm - USA vs Japan
5:46pm - Australia vs Scotland
6:08pm - Argentina vs Samoa
6:30pm - France vs South Africa
7:05pm - Canada vs Spain
7:35pm - England vs Ireland
8:05pm - Kenya vs Wales
8;33pm - New Zealand vs Fiji