The performance wasn’t too pretty all the way through, but the Wallabies have nonetheless started their 2019 World Cup with a 39-21 win over Pool D opponents Fiji.
Sydney was treated to the inaugural Sydney leg of the Women’s HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series over the weekend.
The dedicated headed out to Allianz Stadium on Friday afternoon to watch the 12 women’s teams battle it out in the pool stages. They were treated to the return of Aussie power-house Ellia Green and for many the first chance to see Australia’s gold medalists play at home.
With the Pearls being the obvious draw-card, it was also a chance for fans of the game to see the skills of other nations, in particular the likes of Ireland and Russia who missed out on qualifying for the Rio Olympics.
Friday was a constant barrage of women’s rugby sevens with all pool games being played out to determine the quarter finalists for Saturday. Australia breezed through the day undefeated.
This confirmed a quarter final match up with Fiji, who placed third best on the day despite losing their pool. New Zealand booked a hit out with France and Ireland were to face off against the USA.
Russia completed a clean-sweep of their pool to meet with Canada the next day.
Saturday’s crowd packed Allianz Stadium for the men’s pool games, meaning the women were relegated to Kippax Oval across the road.
The 600-seat grandstand was filled early and access cordoned off, leaving spectators to line the footbridge and perimeter fence in order to watch the women’s quarter finals.
Australia toughed it out against Fiji 10-5 to secure their place in the semis. New Zealand were dominant in their 24-5 win against France and Canada kept Russia scoreless at 12-0 to progress through to the semis.
Ireland showed grit against the USA before being blown away by the USA’s Naya Tapper, going down 17-5.
With the semi-finals relocating to Allianz Stadium, it offered the first chance for many in the crowd to see the Australian team in action.
The Aussies ran out to a standing ovation and raucous ‘Aussie Aussie Aussie’ chants from the crowd. New Zealand had just lost their semi-final to the USA so it appeared that the Pearls may have a relatively clear path to take out the Challenge Trophy on home soil.
Unfortunately, the fairytale never eventuated and Canada played a dominant game of footy, shutting down Australia’s attack and forcing shaky errors from their opposition. As the 14 minutes drew closer to an end, it became apparent that Canada had soundly beaten the competition favourites.
The Canada versus USA final marked the first time since 2013 that neither Oceania powerhouse of Australia or New Zealand had made a final. The Trans-Tasman grudge match was instead played out for the bronze medal, with New Zealand’s clinical consistency and trademark physicality out playing the Aussies for third place.
With Canada eventually beating out USA for the final win 21-17, it offered a reminder that the talent gap was closing between rugby sevens-playing nations.
The momentous occasion that was playing in front of a home crowd for the first time appears to have got the better of the Australian women’s team. Passes didn’t stick and penalties were given away for simple offences.
Yet despite the fact that the outcome didn’t go the way the Australians had hoped for, it was a chance for Sydneysiders to see the best women’s sevens players in the world battle it out.
The bigger wins for the Australian team lay outside of the World Series and is seen in the uptake of women and girls playing rugby sevens across the country since their Olympic win. Or the number of little girls walking around Allianz Stadium with their hair in Caslick’s signature braided pigtails.
If you’re like me, you’d be thinking that having the chance to watch these women play live in Sydney is a win in and of itself.
And there is always next year.