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SVNS Vancouver: Australia embracing ‘great challenge’ after shock Perth loss

By Finn Morton
Australia's Madison Ashby, New Zealand's Tyla King, Canada's Sophie de Goede. (Photos by Will Russell/Getty Images/RODGER BOSCH/AFP via Getty Images/Hagen Hopkins - World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images)

The 2023/24 SVNS Series is nearing its halfway point. After successful events in Dubai, Cape Town and Perth, the SVNS Series now moves to The Great White North for its next unmissable weekend.

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BC Place Stadium in Vancouver will host the 12 best sevens teams in women’s rugby, which includes traditional powerhouses Australia, New Zealand, the United States of America and France.

Tale of the Tape

  • Australia ended New Zealand’s 41-game unbeaten streak to win the Dubai Sevens in December, and the golden girls backed that up with another Cup final victory in Cape Town one week later
  • Ireland recorded a stunning 19-14 upset win over Australia in the SVNS Perth final in January
  • Australia sit first on the overall series standings with New Zealand second and France third
  • New Zealand are the defending champions in Vancouver with the Black Ferns Sevens getting the better of arch-rivals Australia 19-12 in a thrilling final last season

Last time out – HSBC SVNS Perth

Venue: HBF Park, Perth, Australia

Full-time score: Ireland 19 defeated Australia 14

Perth HSBC SVNS Player of the Final: Lucy Mulhall

On a fairly humid Sunday in Perth late last month, Ireland’s Eve Higgins forced her way through Australia’s defensive line to silence the home crowd with Cup final glory on the line.

Ireland’s women’s team had never won a Cup decider during their time on the sevens circuit, but Higgins’ effort with 85 seconds to play left them on the cusp of historic greatness.

While Australia was down, they certainly weren’t out. The SVNS Series overall standing leaders fronted up for the restart as they looked to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

But an unfortunate mistake from Australia’s Alysia Leafau-Fakosilea off the restart gifted the women usually in green – who were wearing white in the final – a scrum. They had one hand on the trophy.

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Time stood still as referee Craig Chan called time off. The clock stopped with seven seconds to run. All Ireland had to do was win the scrum on their feed and kick the ball out – and that’s exactly what they did.

With the Ireland men’s side watching on in the stands, the so-called ‘underdogs’ rejoiced as they celebrated their incredible achievement in front of the Australian crowd.

“It’s been a long time coming. A few of us are 10, 11 years waiting for this one but it means a lot,” Player of the Final Lucy Mulhall said.

“I think especially this group, we’re so tight off the field and we’ve been a long journey from fighting out for bowl finals for many years.

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“This is massive for Irish sevens and women’s rugby in Ireland.”

It was only Australia’s second loss of the 2023/24 season after their shock pool stage defeat to Great Britain on Day One in Perth.

Only a handful of teams have an opportunity to play in front of their home fans in the SVNS Series, and for those teams fortunate enough to have that chance, their home event is earmarked as a tournament they desperately want to win.

While Australia fell painfully short, they’re taking the learnings from that “disappointing” defeat into their upcoming quest for another Cup final in Vancouver from February 23 to 25.

“We’re disappointed with losing because it’s probably a game we should’ve won,” Australia coach Tim Walsh told RugbyPass.

“With sevens, if you look at outcomes or scorelines, you’re going to send yourself crazy. It really is looking at the performance and how you prepared, what you could’ve done better.

“We’re about winning and learning and most of the time it’s both.

“We played New Zealand in a quarter-final at home which was a lot of pressure on the players and there’s a real sort of litmus test for us. To win that game and knock them out and then put us further ahead on the (series) ladder was a real good test for us.

“But then (to) play really well and then to go on and lose, due to discipline mainly, it was obviously disappointing. They’re the learnings from it.

“We all trust the process and we’ve got a strategic plan on where we’re heading and everyone’s got a role to play and we just continue on our way. Looking forward to Vancouver, that’s for sure.”

HSBC SVNS Vancouver

Venue: BC Place Stadium, Vancouver

Dates: February 23 (Friday) to 25 (Sunday)

The anticipation for this weekend is high as reigning overall series champions New Zealand seek redemption after a slow start to the new  season.

After winning every event except for one in 2022/23, the Black Ferns Sevens have only made one final from three starts this time around. New Zealand were beaten in a thrilling decider out in the Dubai desert by Australia in December.

As they look to return to Cup final-winning ways, the Kiwis have been drawn in Pool A along with Brazil, Ireland and South Africa.

But Australia’s dominant performances so far throughout the series solidifies their status as worthy favourites ahead of the upcoming two-tournament stretch in North America.

Australia holds the top position on the overall series standings, with a significant lead over second-place New Zealand. But the Aussies certainly have their work cut out for them after being drawn into the SVNS Vancouver pool of death.

“All those matches are I reckon really diverse. You look at the Japanese, their work rate… their agility is incredible. The Fijian offload, power, and they can score from anywhere… then you’ve got this USA team who are a power-based team that are trying to play as many passes as they can,” Walsh said.

“Our pool, I don’t think it could be any more diverse. All of them pose different threats.

“That’s the beauty of sevens, you get to play six different oppositions over a weekend. You’ve got to play your game but also adapt slightly to what your opposition is doing.

“I think it’s just a beautiful pool to be in but it highlights what sevens is all about – being able to adapt and be agile and do your thing and try to counteract what the opposition are doing.

“They’re all super dangerous. USA have beaten us a couple of times over the last few years. They tend to play a game that really slows it down a lot and if you slow a game down the score becomes tighter because there are less tries, so we’ve got to watch out for that,

“then there’s the flair and the unpredictability of the Fijians. If you’re not on or you slip off they’ll make you pay. Then if you’re not working hard against the Japanese, they’ll outwork you.

“Great pool, great challenge for us and… our first and primary focus is our pool and game one being Japan.”

Hometown favourites Canada headline a tough Pool C which includes Perth SVNS semi-finalists Great Britain, France and Spain.

SVNS Vancouver Women’s pools

Pool A: Ireland, New Zealand, Brazil and South Africa

Pool B: Australia, USA, Fiji and Japan

Pool C: Great Britain, France, Canada and Spain

Seven players to watch in Vancouver

Charlotte Caslick (Australia), Iloner Maher (USA), Madison Ashby (Australia), Madison Levi (Australia), Michaela Blyde (New Zealand), Sophie de Goede (Canada), Tyla King (New Zealand)

Current SVNS Series standings

  1. Australia (58 points), 2. New Zealand (46 points), 3. France (44 points), 4. Ireland (38 points), 5. United States of America (36 points), 6. Canada (32 points), 7. Fiji (30 points), 8. Great Britain (24 points), 9. Brazil (14 points), 10. Japan (9 points), 11. South Africa (7 points), 12. Spain (4 points).

The SVNS Series is off to North America with stops in Vancouver and LA. After the stop in Canada, SVNS LA is from March 1 to 3 and tickets can be bought HERE.

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