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'We played ruthlessly': Australia chasing back-to-back SVNS circuit wins

By AAP
Australia celebrate their SVNS win. Photo by Martin Dokoupil/Getty Images

Australia’s flying Olympic hopefuls in the women’s sevens are determined to make it back-to-back world series triumphs in Cape Town this weekend after launching their season with a brilliant victory in Dubai.

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Last year’s victory at the same event was supposed to be the launch pad for coach Tim Walsh’s team to kick on and enjoy another all-conquering campaign – but instead they didn’t win another tournament all season as New Zealand dominated.

But after ending the Kiwis’ world record 41-match unbeaten run last Sunday in the Middle East for a fourth straight triumph in the Dubai Sevens, the Aussies, now naturally enshrined as the ‘Queens of the Desert’, want to ensure the same scenario doesn’t materialise in the build up to next August’s Olympics in Paris.

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And back in Cape Town, the venue where they won the World Cup in 2022, Walsh is trusting in the same 13 who prevailed in Dubai to deliver again.

“The future of this team is bright, and we cannot wait to get stuck into things in Cape Town,” said Walsh.

“The challenge this week is to continue where we finished in Dubai. Day two in Dubai was one of the best performances I have seen from this team.

“We beat the next best three teams in the world in true Australian Women Sevens style. We played ruthlessly and adapted to each opposition accordingly – it was a very polished performance filled with desire and skill.”

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Three of the team – captain Charlotte Caslick and sisters Maddison and Teagan Levi  – were all named in World Rugby’s Dubai ‘Dream Team’, with Maddison breaking her own record for most tries in a tournament with a dozen.

Levi’s performance had Caslick cooing of the 21-year-old powerhouse: “If she doesn’t go round you, she goes through you…”

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After an accomplished debut tournament with a lightning 40-metre try in the opening match, 22-year-old Kaitlin Shave, the former high school sprint star, retains her spot.

Alysia Leafau-Fakaosilea, who received a red card in the semi-final in Dubai for a dangerous high challenge, has been selected too, but can’t play until the knockout stages because of her suspension.

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The women look well set to make the quarter-finals without much trouble as they have a fairly kind draw against Fiji, Spain, and Japan in Pool A. They beat the Japanese by a record 66-0 scoreline in Dubai.

The same can’t be said for their male counterparts, who face Samoa, Canada, and defending World Series champions New Zealand in their group.

Matt Gonzalez has had to return home with a rib injury and is replaced by 19-year-old James McGregor, who played fullback for Australia U18s last year and is set to make his Sevens debut.

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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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