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‘Own worst enemy’: Australia survive quarter-final scare at Cape Town SVNS

By Finn Morton
Players of Australia celebrate after their teams victory over New Zealand in the tournament final during day 2 of HSBC Dubai Sevens at Sevens Stadium on December 3, 2023 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Gaspafotos/MB Media/Getty Images)

Dubai SVNS champions Australia were their “own worst enemy” in an enthralling quarter-final win over Ireland on Sunday morning in Cape Town with the Aussies sneaking through in a thriller.

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Australia took the lead in the opening minute as rapid winger Faith Nathan raced down the right touchline for the first try of the knockout clash, and Maddison Levi added another shortly after.

But Ireland weren’t going to throw in the towel without putting up at fight at the Western Cape venue, with the underdogs hitting back through a Beibhinn Parsons brace.

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With the sun beaming down from the heavens on a humid Sunday morning, an upset was certainly on the cards as the full-time siren began to warm up with just three points separating the teams.

But a match-winning breakaway from SVNS veteran Dominique Du Toit paved the way for Maddison Levi’s second score of the contest, with the Aussies holding on for a 24-14 win.

“Our motto at the moment is ‘you’re either winning or you’re learning’ and I think we definitely had a bit of both in that game,” Du Toit told RugbyPass.

“We started off not the best with our restart reception but got a try on the board early and it was just a bit of up and down.

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“We were kind of our own worst enemy (by) dropping balls in crucial moments and a few missed tackled on the inside shoulder but we know how to fight, we got in the end.

“I’m proud of the girls for fighting through that in the end.

“We’re still working on our worst moments still being pretty good… being able to win ugly is good.”

With their Cape Town SVNS dream hanging in the balance, the Aussies needed a hero to stand up and answer the call as Ireland risked knocking the tournament favourites out in the quarters.

Dominique Du Toit’s game-changing line break was a decisive moment in not just the contest but the tournament as a whole, but the 26-year-old was “sad” not to go the distance herself.

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Du Toit could “feel” and “see” Ireland Irish defender Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe chasing in sheer desperation, but try-scoring phenom Maddison Levi was vocal in support.

“I’m fortunate now that I have a lot of experience behind my back, I’ve been playing for nine or 10 years,” Du Toit added.

“It was a bit sad I didn’t get there – I wasn’t as fast as I would’ve liked it to be but Mads’ (Maddison Levi) support is unreal. She’s usually the one flying away on her own.

“She’s scoring multiple every game, she’s an unbelievable player. She hit her 100 yesterday and I think she had 15 caps which I think is the fastest anybody’s been able to hit 100 tries which is unreal.”

But in a tough blow, and with just eight seconds to run on the clock, the Aussies were left devastated as leader Demi Hayes was helped from the field with what appeared to be a significant injury.

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“We’re still unsure exactly what it is.

“Absolutely devastated for her to be injured in any capacity but I think we just need to stick together as a team, get behind her and take it as it comes.”

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Poorfour 5 hours ago
The AI advantage: How the next two Rugby World Cups will be won

AI models are really just larger and less transparent variants of the statistical models that have been in use since Moneyball was invented. And a big difference between the Icahn centre’s results and AI today is that ChatGPT-like Large Language Models can explain (to some degree) how they reached their conclusions. In terms of what impact they will have, I suspect it will have two primary impacts: 1) It will place a premium on coaching creativity 2) It will lead to more selections that baffle fans and pundits. Analysts will be able to run the models both ways: they will see their own team’s and players’ weaknesses and strengths as well as the opposition’s. So they will have a good idea at what the other team will be targeting and the decisive difference may well be which coaches are smart enough to think of a gameplan that the other side didn’t identify and prepare for. For players, it places a premium on three key things: 1) Having a relatively complete game with no major weaknesses (or the dedication to work on eliminating them) 2) Having the tactical flexibility to play a different game every week 3) Having a point of difference that is so compelling that there isn’t a defence for it. (3) is relatively rare even among pro players. There have been only a handful of players over the years where you knew what they were going to do and the problem was stopping it - Lomu would be the classic example. And even when someone does have that, it’s hard to sustain. Billy Vunipola in his prime was very hard to stop, but fell away quite badly when the toll on his body began to accumulate. So coaches will look for (1) - a lack of exploitable weaknesses - and (2) - the ability to exploit others’ weaknesses - ahead of hoping for (3), at least for the majority of the pack. Which is likely to mean that, as with the original Moneyball, competent, unshowy players who do the stuff that wins matches will win out over outrageous talents who can’t adapt to cover their own weaknesses. Which will leave a lot of people on the sidelines sputtering over the non-inclusion of players whose highlights reels are spectacular, but whose lowlight reels have been uncovered by AI… at least until the point where every fan has access to a sporting analysis AI.

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