Australia claim maiden World Sevens Series title as Blitzboks stumble
Australia snatched the title from the claws of South Africa in a thrilling end to the title race in Los Angeles this weekend.
New Zealand won the gold medal in Los Angeles with a spectacular 28-21 victory over Pacific Island neighbours Fiji, but all the focus was on the third-place playoff on Sunday.
Australia beat Samoa 21-7 in the bronze medal match — gaining 17 points on the World Series log in the process — enough to usurp South Africa at the top of the standings and claim their first Sevens World Series title.
Corey Toole, Henry Paterson and Dietrich Roache all scored in the do-or-die match for the Aussies against Samoa.
“We said from day one, all we wanted to do every day was be consistent and I think for the first time in a while we’ve been able to do that. I’m so happy, I don’t think it’s sunk in yet. A huge accomplishment for so much hard work. I couldn’t be prouder of the whole squad,” said Australia’s captain, Nick Malouf, after the match.
Australia only won one of the nine World Series tournaments, in London, but their consistency throughout the Series helped them over the line.
The Aussies claimed one gold medal, two silver medals (Dubai and Seville) and three bronze medals (Singapore, Vancouver and Los Angeles) throughout the Series. Their other finishes were fourth place (Malaga) and fifth place (Dubai), with their worst showing being an eighth-place finish in Toulouse.
“We’re a bunch of misfits. We’re just having a crack, we’re just working hard for each other. The boys love each other and that was a big base of it. We worked hard. Our big goal was to be consistent, to get podium [finishes] every tournament. We didn’t get there in every tournament but this medal is a reflection of that consistency,” said Australia’s head coach, John Manenti, after the final whistle on Sunday.
Australia ended the Sevens World Series on 126 points, South Africa on 124 and thanks to their silver medal in Los Angeles, Fiji were third with 122 points.
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The Australian men’s sevens team’s triumph signalled a double for the country as the Australian women’s team wrapped up the Sevens World Series women’s title earlier this season.
South Africa slump
Australia came into the weekend two points behind South Africa, needing them to slip up to capture the title. And slip up South Africa did.
The Blitzboks lost their opening group-stage match of the weekend to hosts USA 21-7, which immediately put them on the backfoot. The Bok Sevens team then came back to snatch a closely fought 22-17 win over Canada.
With the World Series title on the line in their final group match against the All Black Sevens, South Africa narrowly lost 17-14.
“We conceded way more tries than usual and that was very disappointing,” said coach Neil Powell after the Blitzboks’ group-stage exit.
“For me, the defensive effort from the players was too individualistic and we did not trust the system. When we play as a unit, it brings us success, and that did not happen out there.
“It was not always due to a lack of trying, some guys really did their best out there, but rather players wanting to do things on their own. That is not what we stand for as a team, hence the disappointment.”
That was just the start of a terrible weekend for the Blitzboks as they went on to lose 10-5 to Wales before winning their final match of the weekend 29-12 against Spain.
This was South Africa’s worst performance of the Series as they finished in 13th place. As it happens, had they finished sixth place or better the Springbok Sevens would have claimed the World Series title.
South Africa’s failure to secure the Series title was disappointing considering they won the first four tournaments of the 2021/22 Series in Dubai (twice), Malaga and Seville. Their form slipped dramatically since then, unable to clinch a medal in the remaining five tournaments with a best finish of fifth place in Vancouver and London.
Their season could still finish on a successful note, with the opportunity to claim their first-ever Sevens World Cup trophy in two weeks’ time at home in Cape Town. DM