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Olympics-bound Aussies still have plenty to ‘prove’ at Oceania Sevens

By Finn Morton
The Australian Women's Sevens team celebrate qualifying for the Olympics.

When the Oceania Sevens gets underway at Brisbane’s Ballymore Stadium on Friday, both the Australian women’s and men’s teams will arrive with the confidence and peace of mind that comes with securing their place at the Paris Olympics.

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Brisbane’s iconic rugby stadium, Ballymore, which received a lucrative $31.5 million upgrade earlier this year, will host the best teams in Oceania over three days.

But there’s much more than just national pride on the line.

When the likes of Samoa, Tonga, Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu take the field on Friday through to Sunday, their Olympic dreams can be realised if they become champions of their pool.

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The 2023 edition of the Oceania Sevens serves as an Olympic qualification event for the top-placed teams in both the men’s and women’s competitions.

But for teams like Australia, New Zealand and Fiji, they’ll still take the field in Brisbane but they won’t be competing for the same shot at destiny. They’ve already booked their ticket to Paris.

Instead, they’ll play other qualified teams alongside the main draw. For the Australian women’s side, they’ll take a New Zealand development side four times in three days – a team that includes a number of World Series champions and Olympic gold medallists.

The Aussies couldn’t be happier about it.

Sitting with Australian Sevens youngsters Teagan Levi and Bienne Terita at the team hotel ahead of the Oceania Sevens, both players spoke about the opportunity that they have to “prove” themselves a few weeks out from the SVNS season.

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“Yeah, we’ve just been overseas. We went to Italy for a little training camp for two weeks and then went over to Ireland to play some footy over there as well in a comp against them and France,” Levi told RugbyPass.

“We just want to keep playing as much footy as we can.

“We went to Fiji as well. Pretty stoked to get the win over there, and as I said, just want to get the footy in the hands and get those combos right. We’ve been working really hard.

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“Our preseason started quite a while ago but the official preseason started a month ago so we’ve just been working extra hard at training, doing those extra sessions and hopefully getting the work done before we get to Oceania to prove where we are.

“We want to win the gold medal and we’re prepared to do whatever it takes to achieve that.”

After winning the World Series in 2021/22, Australia came crashing down to earth last season as the Black Ferns ran riot during a practically perfect season.

But that the Aussies didn’t let that hurt scar them. The women in gold “came back in mid-June” for a pre-preseason of sorts, with the team travelling the world as they continue to work tirelessly for improvement.

Waiting for the Aussies on the other side of long plane rides has been some of the best teams in the world. When the team flew to Fiji, they ended up playing the hosts, USA, France and New Zealand in a “really good” hit out.

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Including Australia, they’re four of the top five teams in women’s sevens, while Fiji placed sixth last season.

The Black Ferns Sevens are definitely the team to catch less than a year out from the Olympics in Paris, and the Aussies will get another chance to test themselves against a New Zealand development side in Brisbane.

“It was just really good for us to get game time to play against those players, I think that’s what Timmy (coach Tim Walsh) really wanted for us during our preseason,” Terita added.

“New Zealand are always good and they were probably our biggest competition during preseason as well as France – France were really good also. It was just really good for us to get really good game time, good quality football, and get those combos right.

“(We’ve got) some new players coming through… it just goes to show we’ve always got new talent coming through which really pushes us to be the best that we can be and produce really good rugby on the field.”

As for the men’s team, the Oceania Sevens could’ve been a whole lot more nerve-wracking if this year’s season finale went a bit differently.

Australia were beaten by Samoa 10-5 at London’s Twickenham Stadium in May, which set up a must-win clash with rivals Great Britain the seventh-placed playoff. A win would secure their spot at the Games.

The Australians overcame the pressure and lived up to the hype as they swept Team GB off the park with a commanding 34-5 victory.

While a young Aussie side prepares to park, they can breathe that little bit easier knowing that the team is off to Paris. But with the SVNS circuit starting in just a few weeks in Dubai, this tournament still serves as a decisive event.

“On the bus on the way here we were talking about how we’d be pretty stressed if we’re coming up for qualification. We’re kind of using this tournament as a warmup for the World Series like we’re playing quality sides like Fiji, New Zealand, Nui and the Oceania boys,” Dally Bird told RugbyPass.

“We know if we want to go deep into any World Series comps you’re going to come up against those teams and hopefully Samoa at the end of the tournament. We’re not taking this tournament lightly.

“We’ve got a lot of young boys but we’re expecting them to step up and we know we’ve got to step up as well.”

Australian squads for Oceania Sevens in Brisbane

Women’s squad

Sariah Paki, Bella Nasser, Kaitlin Shave, Madison Ashby, Maddison Levi, Tagan Levi, Faith Nathan, Demi Hayes, Bienne Terita, Sharni Smale, Charlotte Caslick, Dominique Du Toit, Alysia Leafau-Fakosilea

Men’s squad

Nick Malouf, Dally Bird, Aden Ekanayake, Ben Dalton, Tim Clements, James McGregor, Hayden Sargeant, Ben Dowling, Dietrich Roache, James Turner, Henry Palmer, Nathan Lawson

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1 Comment
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Pecos 254 days ago

It’s another hitout, with nothing capable of being “proved”. I mean all of the Black Ferns superstars & most starters aren’t there. I’m looking forward to seeing how the newbie rookies go, also how the Ferns rookie leaders go.

Also, this hype about “winning” the 2021/22 World Series is hollow given the Black Ferns didn’t attend 4 of the 6 tournaments due to covid. A one horse race no less. The next Series the Ferns smashed it.

Good luck & all the best to those teams competing for Olys quali.

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Shaylen 4 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

These guys will be utility players Nick it cannot be helped because coaches cannot help themselves. Rassie looks at players like these and sees the ability to cover multiple positions without losing much. It allows the 6-2 or 7-1. He wont change his coaching style or strategy for one player. At provincial level players like these are indispensable. If there is an injury to your starting 12 but your back up 12 is a bit iffy then a coach is going to go with the back up 10 who is gold and who can play a good 12. Damian Willemse for the Springboks is an obvious case, for the Stormers its the same. Dobson plays him at 12 or 15, with Gelant in the team he plays 12 but if Gelant goes down he doesnt go for his back up 15, he just puts Willemse there. With Frawley its the same at international and provincial level. He just slots in wherever. Frans Steyn made a career out of it. He was much maligned though as a youngster as he never fully developed into any role. He then went to Japan and France to decide for himself what kind of player he was, put on muscle and retained his big boot, ran over players and booted the ball long and came back into the Springboks after about 3 years away and was then certain about how he wanted to play the game no matter what position. Coaches cannot help themselves because they only want what is best for their teams and that means putting your most talented players on even if it means you cause them some discomfort. Sometimes players need to decide how they want to play the game and then adapt that to every position and let the coach decide how they want to use them.

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J
Jon 10 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

I think the main problem here is the structure of both countries make up. They are going to have very similar.. obstacles(not problems). It will just be part of the evolution of their rugby and they’ll need to find a way to make this versatility more advantageous than specialization. I think South Africa are well on the way to that end already, but Ireland are more likely to have a hierarchical approach and move players around the provinces. Ioane is going to be more than good enough to lock up one of those available positions for more than a few years I believe though. Morgan would definitely be a more long term outlook. Sacha to me has the natural footwork of a second five. Not everything is about winning, if a team has 3 players that want to play 10s just give them all a good go even if its to the detriment of everyone, this is also about dreams of the players, not just the fans. This is exactly how it would be in an amateur club setting. Ultimately some players just aren’t suited to any one position. The example was of a guy that had size and speed, enough pace to burn, power to drive, and speed to kick and pass long, but just not much else when it came to actual rugby (that matched it). New Zealand has it’s own example with Jordie Barrett and probably shows what Reece Hodge could have been if the game in Australia had any administration. Despite the bigger abundance of talent in NZ, Jordie was provided with consistent time as a fullback, before being ushered in as a second five. Possibly this was due to his blood, and another might not have been as fortunate, but it is what it was, a complete contrast to how Hodge was used in Australia, were he could have had any position he wanted. When it comes down to it though, much like these young fellas, it will be about what they want, and I think you’ll find they’ll be like Hodge and just want to be as valuable to the team as they can and play wherever. It’s not like 63 International Cap is a hard thing to live with as a result of that decision!

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