Australian skipper Sharni Williams said her team “made a statement” in claiming a bronze medal in the Sydney Sevens via a brutal 12-10 win over France.
After the Aussie’s hopes of winning their first title since Sydney 2018 were smashed by Canada in a 34-0 semi-final loss, coach John Manenti said Australia needed to step up physically and stay composed in big matches.
They did both in the third-fourth playoff against the French later in the night.
After lightning delayed the kickoff, and in pouring rain at Bankwest Stadium, the Aussies held their nerve to score twice and then defend grimly in the dying minutes.
The win exacted some revenge for France taking bronze in the same match in Hamilton, and gave a promising glimpse of the physicality that bigger rivals believe Australia lack, and aggressive try to exploit.
"We had to dig deep,” Williams said.
"It wasn’t the finish we wanted, we wanted to be in that final. But we really had to go out there and have some ticker. We have a lot of fans here and we really had to uphold what Australia means to us and we had to go out and fight for every part of the paddock.”
Australia has been targeted physically for ever and a day, and in 2016 used their speed and ball-handling to largely avoid their bigger but lesser skilled rivals.
Four years on, however, rivals are much-improved and fitter, but no less strong and aggressive.
"The human kindness is just amazing and I'm really appreciative of it."@sharni2388 speaks after @Aussie7s won bronze against France and raised an incredible $40,500 for the bushfires appeal at the #Sydney7s. Inspirational stuff. pic.twitter.com/7XInMyGft5— World Rugby Sevens (@WorldRugby7s) February 2, 2020
But Williams said the Australian team would also step up.
"We are a small team - Australians are small but we have that ticker, that small man syndrome where you get up and you fight for everything,” she said.
"I definitely think we made a statement tonight.
"Canada came out firing and knew our game plan. So we know where we have to work on, we won’t give away those secrets but we will be ready for Hong Kong.”
8:27pm - AUSTRALIA vs FRANCE
Australia’s women have taken bronze in the Sydney 7s after a brutal 12-10 win over France in the third place match.
The match was delayed by half an hour due to lightning strikes and the ball was clearly slippery on a heavy track.
Injuries to Emilee Cherry and Ellia Green depleted Australia by the end but they hung in against a fast-finishing French side.
Charlotte Caslick worked a long lateral line to lure defenders away from Green, allowing her speedy teammate to streak away from the defenders over the line.
Australia worked the same edge again less than two minutes later for Demi Hayes to score her first of the tournament.
The Aussies dominated possession but France forced them backwards and won a penalty.
Green was wrong-footed by Lina Guerin but Caslick and Green cleaned up the mess chasing her down.
Green was forced off at half-time, with a bleeding nose, in a blow for Australia.
Guerin scored first in the second half, taking advantage of an overlap as the French held much of the attacking ball in the second period.
France’s Joanna Grisez made it two in a row with 30 seconds left but a missed conversion meant the margin remained at t
A restart that fell short of the 10 metre mark gave Australia the chance to seal the match and third spot in their home tournament.
The result means that Australia should remain second in the World Series standings, regardless of the result of the Canada-New Zealand Cup final.
Tries: Green, Hayes
Tries: Guerin, Grisez
4.30pm - Aussies need to muscle up in big games, says Manenti after heavy loss to Canada
Coach John Manenti admitted his side need to improve their physicality and composure in big games after Canadian muscle tipped the Aussie women out of contention for the Sydney 7s gold medal.
For the second week in a row, Australia were beaten up by the aggressive Canada team in a semi-final that ended up a 34-0, six-tries-to nil rout of the hosts.
The Aussie women found some redemption in the bronze medal final, escaping with a 12-10 victory over France, but there will still be plenty for the women to work on as the Tokyo Olympics loom.
After toughing out a 14-10 win over the French earlier in the day, things went awry early and often for the Aussie side the semi-final, losing Emilee Cherry with a head knock and two players into the sin bin as well.
But it was Maple Leaf muscle that did most of the damage, with Australia’s speed and skill unable to hand the power of Canada in contact, and an aggressive and unyielding defence.
"I am gutted. I feel for the girls because I know they are better than that and we let ourselves down and that wasn’t the performance we were looking for,” Manenti said.
"We were particularly poor around the breakdown, it felt like we got counter rucked every time we had possession. Attitudinally we let ourselves down.
"Our discipline and our lack of intensity at the breakdown really let us down.”
It’s been ever thus but Australia have been targeted physically heavily in recent times and sides like Canada, the USA and France are enjoyed success with the ploy.
Manenti said they needed to focus on muscling up at the breakdown, in particular.
"We have been pretty good at it for the last bit but clearly teams are coming pretty hard at us,” Manenti said.
"I don’t know. It is certainly a part of the game we need to look at. As a sport, I feel like there are a lot of inconsistencies around what people do and don’t get away with there.
"But that’s certainly no criticism of today’s game. Canada came at us pretty hard at the breakdown and got some pay out of it.”
Manenti said his side had to get better at being composed in big games.
"We have to learn. That’s a few times now we have got ourselves in crunch matches and let ourselves down with a performance that’s not consistent with what we have been doing,” he said.
"Everyone is desperate to do well and do well at home, and the reality is once we started chasing the game is that it went from bad to worse. We have to have better composure when we get behind.
"We will go and have a look at it. We have great attacking weapons but if you are playing without the football.
"Even Ellia, she wound up but she was running at bodies rather than space and they are a big physical team who can handle that. We have to utilise her better.”3.55pm - Australia vs Canada
Australia’s speed and skill was no match for Canada’s power in a one-sided semi-final rout.
Canada got the first score on the board through Kaili Lukan after just 90 seconds, when they had an extra number due to Emilee Cherry being down in back play after receiving a head knock.
For the second week in a row, the Australians struggled to deal with the Canadian physicality and aggressive defence and sustained pressure saw them pinned in their own half.
The Canada team put another score on the board through Ghislaine Landry after five minutes, when Australia’s defence couldn’t contain the power ringing of the red shirted runner.
Australia looked to claw their way back but an Emma Tonegato break came to nothing when she passed aimlessly, and it went from bad to worse when Sharni Williams was yellow carded a few seconds later for an accidental hair pull.
Things went downhill quickly for Australia after halftime.
Bianca Farella showed up Charlotte Caslick for pace on the left sideline to score a third try, and soon the rivets were popping everywhere for Australia.
With Canada’s defence piling on the pressure, the Aussies turned the ball over often and Keyara Wardley scored two easy tries to pull away in commanding fashion.
Cassie Staples copped another yellow card for a high tackle and Karen Pacquin sealed the 34-0 victory in the final seconds for Canada with a sixth try.
Tries: Wardley 2, Farella, Pacquin, Lukan
Cons: Landry 2
12pm - Cherry ready for semi-battle
Emilee Cherry says the Aussie women are bracing for a bruising semi-final against Canada after beating France 14-10 in their final pool match on Sunday.
Australia scored two early tries before France responded in kind, but two missed conversions ultimately proved the difference in the match.
A last-gasp intercept from Cherry ensured victory for Australia, the top pool spot and a guaranteed top four finish.
Australia lost to France in the Hamilton Sevens bronze medal match last weekend, with coach John Manenti putting out a younger lineup in that clash in a bid to hand them more experience.
Cherry said they had learned a lot from that defeat in New Zealand and Canada shape as a similarly physical prospect in Sydney.
"Last week, the French really had it over us physically and they did this week really around this ruck, attacking our ruck," she said.
"I guess going into the Canada game, they're going to be the same around the ruck and we've probably got to work a bit more in our threes to recycle that ball a bit quicker to give the likes of Charlotte (Caslick) and Emma (Tonegato) a bit more room to move."
Australia's women stepped up to the plate in defence in the latter stages of Sunday's clash, and Cherry said the contributions of individuals in that area gave confidence to everyone.
"Emma Tonegato's really aimed up in the middle for us, she's been a tackle machine and I think the likes of Ellia Green, after she puts a big hit on, it lifts everyone, so it only takes those little individual efforts to improve the whole team," she said.
It's over and @Aussie7s are going to a cup semi-final at their home event.@FranceRugby go through tot he semi-finals as best runner up on points difference.— World Rugby Sevens (@WorldRugby7s) February 1, 2020
Final score: AUS 14 FRA 10#Sydney7s pic.twitter.com/S0yD0c73jt
The recovery strategies of every team will be put to the test in the semi-finals as teams look to back up from a steamy day one, where temperatures reached 42 degrees.
Cherry said though the heat made handling more difficult, they relished the conditions.
The Aussie teams have been vocal about their view that the temperature could give them an advantage over some of the Northern Hemisphere teams, including Canada.
"I was loving it, I love playing in the heat, it is odd though because it is hot out there but the ball's really sweaty and slippery so you've got to play a close knit game," she said.
"We really thrive in the heat and hopefully it's taken a bit out of the Canadians' legs going into the semi."
Australia will play in the semi-finals against Canada at 3.36pm AEDT, and France still qualified as the best second-place finisher.
They will play New Zealand in the other semi-final immediately after.
11:45am - Finals equation
With the women's final pool round complete, so is the picture for the playoffs. New Zealand, France, Australia or Canada will hoist the Sydney 7s trophy.
There are some intriguing matchups in the place playoffs as well.
Here's how the playoff matches look.
ROUND THREE RESULTS
Fiji 31 - Brazil 0
Canada 21 - USA 7
Russia 14 - Japan 12
New Zealand 26 - England 12
Spain 24 - Ireland 5
France 10 - Australia 14
2:08pm - 11th - Brazil vs Ireland
2:30pm - 9th - Spain vs Japan
2:52pm - 7th USA vs Russia
3:14pm - 5th - England vs Fiji
3:36pm - Canada vs Australia
3:58pm - New Zealand vs France
7:37pm - Bronze Final
8:26pm - Cup Final
10.50am - Australia vs France
Australia exacted revenge for their loss to bronze medal loss to France last weekend with a hard-fought win in their final pool game.
An early infringement from Australia put the ball in French hands and they began to build some attacking pressure.
The French returned the favour with some poor handling, and the ball was scooped up by Ellia Green but Australia couldn't slip past the France defence.
Charlotte Caslick went hunting for a gap in the French line and though a heavy tackle knocked the ball loose, it bounced into the path of Emma Tonegato, who accelerated into space to score the opener.
France's desperation to keep the ball alive hurt them in attack but they continued to put the heat on the Australian defence.
A perfectly-timed Tonegato offload opened the door for Emilee Cherry to put Green into space on the left edge.
The speedster took that opportunity and powered past the nearest defender to score and give the Aussies a 14-point lead at half-time.
France scored the first of the second half, with a clearance kick bouncing to their favour and Chloe Pelle outpacing two Australian defenders to narrow the gap.
Seraphine Okemba made it two consecutive French scores, with a try off the next restart, and the margin became just four points.
Caslick couldn't find the space against France that she had enjoyed on day one, working against a relentless French defensive line.
Australia's defence held firm under pressure in the final minutes as well, however, and secured victory.
Tries: Tonegato, Green
Cons: Williams, Green
Tries: Pelle, Okemba
9:35am - Canada qualify for semis
Canada are first women's team through to the semi-finals after beating the USA 21-7 in their final pool match on Saturday.
The Canadians finished as the only undefeated side in their pool, with Fiji finishing second and the Americans came third in a surprise finish.
8:23am - Aussie squad
A reminder of the Aussie squad for the tournament.
IN: Charlotte Caslick, Shannon Parry, Faith Nathan
OUT: Emma Sykes, Rhiannon Byers, Sariah Paki (13th)
1. Shannon Parry, University of Sydney, QLD, 28 caps
2. Sharni Williams (c), University of Canberra, ACT, 33 caps
3. Faith Nathan, University of Technology Sydney, NSW, 3 caps
4. Cassandra Staples, University of Queensland, NSW, 11 caps
5. Emma Tonegato, University of Western Australia, NSW, 29 caps
6. Demi Hayes, Griffith University, QLD, 11 caps
7. Charlotte Caslick, Bond University, QLD, 32 caps
8. Madison Ashby, University of Technology Sydney, NSW, 4 caps
9. Dominique du Toit, University of Western Australia, QLD 14 caps
10. Alicia Lucas, University of New England, NSW, 33 caps
11. Emilee Cherry, University of Queensland, QLD, 30 caps
12. Ellia Green, University of Melbourne, Victoria, 29 caps
13th Sariah Paki, University of Technology Sydney, NSW, 10 caps
8:20am - Fixtures
8:45am - Fiji vs Brazil
9:07am - Canada vs USA
9:29am - Russia vs Japan
9:51am - New Zealand vs England
10:13am - Spain vs Ireland
10:35am - France vs Australia
2:08pm - 11th place playoff
2:30pm - 9th place playoff
2:52pm - 7th place playoff
3:14pm - 5th place playoff
3:36pm - 1st Pool B vs 1st Pool C
3:58pm - 1st Pool A vs Best 2nd
7:37pm - Bronze Final