Reece Hodge will be named in the Wallabies’ No.15 jersey today replacing injured Tom Banks, with Dave Rennie opting for the Melbourne Rebels utility ahead of James O’Connor.
Like the Super Rugby teams, both the men’s and women’s Australian sevens teams are not as big, physical or as fast across the park as the New Zealanders.
For the Aussie women, it is no longer good enough to be more skilful and creative. The New Zealand team has developed that in spades now.
The New Zealand women’s team is almost a lock to win gold at the Olympics. Not only are they playing well, but they are also still absolutely seething over the loss of gold in Rio. Five years down the track, they are still fuming at that loss.
On the other hand, Charlotte Caslick said playing the New Zealanders gave the players a bit of a reality check, and that the series was an opportunity to find their best combinations. Note she said ‘find’ not ‘build on’ combinations.
Eleven of the 13 members of New Zealand’s Rio squad are still going around. As for the Australian squad, there were six Rio squad members, and there are two to return from injury who did not come over.
So what are the take outs from the Aussie women’s squad?
Australia won only one of six games, so New Zealand are well ahead. Australia have the players to compete if they have the time to form the right combinations and they need the rub of the green to go their way.
The stalwarts all played well: Charlotte Caslick, Vani Pelite, Sharni Williams, Shannon Parry, Ellia Green (just back from knee surgery) and Chloe Dalton (returning from back surgery). Caslick and Pelite are absolutely critical to this team.
The standout new name was 20-year-old Alysia Lefau-Fakaosilea. She has been around for a couple of years and has already played for the Wallaroos.
This was her first real run internationally with the sevens squad. She is not big but hits hard, gets over the ball and is difficult to tackle. She must be a lock for the Olympics squad.
Of the new players, both Faith Nathan and Madison Higgins-Ashby did not look out of place and I would not be surprised if they made the squad.
If that happens, there will only be a couple of spots available for the remaining players. That group includes Lily Dick, Sariah Paki, Cassie Staples, Demi Hayes and Dom Du Toit. Then there is also Emma Tonegato coming back from injury. I am not sure where Emilee Cherry is.
In summary, the Aussie women are looking pretty good but in reality they probably will be fighting with the USA, Canada and France for the minor medals.
As for the men’s team, there is not a lot to report – they lost all six games, recognising that the New Zealand team is one of the favourites for at least a medal at the Olympics, and they are in serious contention for gold.
Since the last Olympics, Australia have been ranked between fourth and seventh and that is probably indicative of where they are.
The squad that went to New Zealand is full of quality players but there were not any that stood out as serious game breakers. They just could not convert possession and territory advantage into points.
Similar to the Super Rugby teams, the Australian team could not dominant the ruck area. The defence was solid but there was always a feeling New Zealand would eventually break through and they did.
There have been a lot of changes in the playing squad. Unfortunately it would appear Tim Walsh has not had the time to properly turn over the squad and then give it the time to develop combinations that are so critical in sevens.
There were a couple of highlights. It was good to see former sprinter Trae Williams (also known as ‘Quadzilla’) finally get in space and show his speed.
Lewis Holland was back in the sevens squad after his time at the Rebels. He still looks like a smart player. Similarly, Maurice Longbottom is a terrific story and is really one of the generals of the side. He is one of those players you get excited about when he gets the ball.
Henry Hutchison is a quality experienced player with speed. It is just a pity he does not have a bit more size.
Unfortunately, you can see they are missing the likes of Jeral Skelton, now at the Melbourne Rebels, and Tim Anstee, now at the Western Force.
For both Australian teams, it has been a long time out of international competition. Fortunately, both squads have a further pre-Olympics hit out up in Townsville, hopefully with Samoa and New Zealand involved.