'Misfits, a bunch of weirdos': Australia knock New Zealand out of Hong Kong Sevens
Australia’s world series men’s sevens champions may be a bunch of “misfits and weirdos”, as one of their players puts it with a smile – but they also appear to becoming serial winners.
On Saturday, they roared into the quarter-finals of the Hong Kong Sevens while consigning New Zealand’s rugby men to an unprecedented early exit.
The Australians found their best form in a winner-takes-all pool stage match, running in four tries to beat their trans-Tasman rivals 24-17 and book a last-eight date with Ireland.
It meant a ragged-looking New Zealand outfit failed to reach the knock-out stages of the sevens circuit’s premier tournament for the first time and it was only the second time in 21 years they’d failed to make the quarter-finals of a world series event.
Australia, who sealed the last world series in August in Los Angeles, had to deliver their best after they’d earlier lost their other group match 22-17 to Samoa, the tournament’s surprise packets who’d also hammered New Zealand on Friday.
It raised the unexpected prospect of the two group favourites having to face what was effectively a knock-out tie in the day’s final match at the Hong Kong Stadium.
Coach John Manenti’s Aussies started brightly as Jimmy ‘The Jet’ Turner burst on to the ball for a fine opening try in the first minute.
After Moses Leo had put the All Blacks back in it, a Dietrich Roache snipe down the right wing restored the Australians’ control before some individual magic from Maurice Longbottom saw him shuffle, feint and power his way to a third try.
The New Zealanders’ fate was effectively sealed straight after the break with Nathan Lawson’s interception score, with late tries from Sione Molia and Leroy Carter not camouflaging another sub-par performance.
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But for the Australians, it was another example of the team’s togetherness to rebound from the Samoa loss.
“Against Samoa, we just didn’t really stick to the structure, but it was a pretty big game against the Kiwis so we just stuck to what we said we’d fix, and it paid off,” said the lively Turner.
“We all love each other, we’re a bunch of misfits, a bunch of weirdos, but we just come together! Even five minutes after the Samoa loss, we were over it, smiling about it.”
His ‘misfits’ comments referred to how Manenti, faced with budget cuts, found unlikely players from Sydney club rugby and fringe Super Rugby talents for his Australian men’s sevens project.
Now, they’re looking real threats for the Olympic title in France two years hence.
Earlier on Saturday, Samoa had followed up their 24-0 win over New Zealand with their narrow win over Australia, for whom Henry Hutchison, Henry Paterson and Darby Lancaster all scored tries.
Five-time defending champions Fiji still looked the team to beat as they topped their group unbeaten to set up a blockbuster quarter-final with South Africa’s ‘Blitzboks’, who scraped through despite losing to France.
The other quarter-finals will feature Samoa against Argentina and the unbeaten French versus the USA.
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