The rugby season finished on near a perfect note, with the Aussie sevens women taking out back-to-back Dubai tournaments and the men runner-up to the South Africa Blitzbok juggernaut in a close match.
However, just as one would hope a great story or two could be spread all about rugby success, the lead story is speculation about the Australian women’s sevens coach, John Manenti, being replaced by Tim Walsh, the current men’s (and former women’s) coach.
But put that to one side.
After a long lay-off, both squads were finally able to hit the field and play some real matches. There was more than a question or two as to how they would perform, with a big turn-over of players and with the teams made up of youngsters.
The outcome was brilliant, two firsts by the women, and a fifth and second for the men.
So what were the takeaways?
Caslick is seriously outstanding
Rugby AU needs to use Charlotte Caslick and her highlights to promote rugby. She is a genuine star with international recognition.
Her performance and workrate in the final was remarkable – if you have not watched it, you should.
In both tournaments she was ranked the impact player of the tournament based on the tackles, offloads, carries and line-breaks, she was player of the final in the first tournament, and was selected in both dream teams.
Not one to often use hyperbole, there is nothing she cannot do.
As a side issue, reflecting on the recent Matildas games and the WBBL finals, when sports promote their stars, fans – especially kids – follow star players. Caslick should be given a greater profile. She will not only go down as an all-time great player, her interviews provide honest insights, plus she is highly competitive (and holds a grudge).
There have been questions asked about the sevens program post-Olympics, with a review and the coaches having to reapply for their roles. However, most nations would be pretty happy with these results over the last two weeks.
Maybe the postponement of the Olympics impacted planning and development, but they since identified new talent, selected it and coached it to success.
The confidence of youth in both teams has been on show, with many games over the last fortnight where I had to remind myself that some players were only 19 or 20 – Dietrich Roache, Corey Toole and Ben Dowling were standouts.
For the women, Madison Ashby, Faith Nathan and Alysia Lefau-Fakaosilea became regular starters, playing way above their age and experience. The biggest concern will be keeping the players, pretty sure the NRLW teams will have watched these tournaments closely.
Skills and fitness are better than ever
Across the board, the skills and fitness of both teams have increased significantly.
As a consequence, both teams consistently played and executed at pace. With higher levels of fitness they were able to stick to their structures and not fall off tackles late in the game. It was also noticeable that almost all the players can draw and pass, and throw an accurate long pass.
They all just seemed to be more skilful, fitter, faster and stronger.
Defence is now a strength
Australian teams have not been characterised by consistently strong defence, but it has stepped up more than a notch in both squads.
Apart from an improvement in technique, there seemed to be an increased desperation – and attitude is the key – which held throughout each game.
Australia’s women in particular are now aggressive tacklers and aggressive over the ball. Nathan, Ashby, Dick and Lefau-Fakaosilea are hitting harder than I have seen by an Australian women’s team. Watching them you were just confident they were going to make the tackle and it would be dominant.
So is it all peaches and cream? In short, no. Sevens rugby is a bit like T20 cricket, in that it requires specialised skills, is cut throat and a game can turn on a dime.
The recent success does not guarantee future success, but it is definitely looking better than it did a couple of weeks ago.
Even though it is a truncated World Series and there were fewer teams in these first two tournaments, it has been a while since we have had both teams deliver such quality performances.
These performance will instil a degree of confidence that they can carry through in the rest of the tournaments.