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Maddison Levi’s return to boost Aussie 7s' quest for Vancouver crown

By Finn Morton
(Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Australia will welcome back try-scoring machine Maddison Levi on Day Two at SVNS Vancouver with the World Rugby Sevens Player of the Year available after serving a suspension.

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Levi, 21, was sent off in the Cape Town Cup final in December but saw red for a second time in her first game back from suspension in the Perth quarter-final against New Zealand.

The Australian scored 57 tries in a record-breaking season in 2022/23, and even coach Tim Walsh couldn’t quite hide his excitement ahead of Levi’s return on Saturday.

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With the SVNS Series leaders missing the likes of Bienne Terita and Alysia Lefau-Fakaosilea through injury, Levi’s impending availability put a Smile on coach Walsh’s face.

“When we went out and we had all the GPS units that were left in the control pad, it was like four or five absolute weapons,” Walsh told RugbyPass after Australia’s second game in Vancouver.

“We’re a program that’s building depth and we need to be able to perform regardless.

“To see Lily Dick and do a job, Tia Hinds come in and do a job. You see (Sidney) Taylor getting her debut.

“We’ve got the season to really make sure we have got depth so whenever something does happen, someone’s there to fill in.

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“Very nice to have Maddy Levi coming back,” he said, almost with a chuckle.

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Series leaders Australia started their campaign at the Canadian venue with a hard-fought win over Japan. Australia had beaten Japan 66-nil in Dubai only a few months ago, but it was a very different story this time around.

Sakura Mizutani reaped the rewards of Japan’s attacking pressure to score in the fifth minute, and while Sharni Smale and captain Charlotte Caslick hit back for the Aussies, another Japan try made things interesting at the death.

Honoka Tsutsumi scored with a minute to play, but the missed conversion out-wide left the favourites with a two-point advantage – and that’s all they needed.

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Australia emerged victorious 12-10 in only the second game of the event, but took things up another level against Fiji in their other Pool B clash on Day One.

“I thought Japan played unbelievable. If you’re always looking at outcomes in sevens, you’re going to go mad,” Walsh said.

“It’s a rollercoaster of a ride and you’ve got to play not so well and still get away with a win.

“I don’t think we played that badly to be honest. I think Japan played really well but snuck away, we kept them in the corner when they scored their (last) try.

“We got that and then we put in a much better performance against Fiji.

“We’re missing some artillery so it’s really good that someone’s not playing, someone else jumps in and does the job.”

Australia will take on Iloner Maher’s United States of America on Saturday morning as they look to wrap up top spot in Pool B with a run of three wins from as many starts.

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Poorfour 4 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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