Okay, so I have one final long musing on rugby sevens.
I wasn’t going to do a final wrap. The turning point was a Twitter debate about the code between a few people who are not fans of sevens or even rugby supporters at all. Someone described sevens as being like decaf coffee or non-alcoholic beer, which is fair enough – they’re entitled to their views.
However, it’s a perspective that’s not appreciated. Rugby is a business. Rugby in Australia, like many businesses, needs diversification to compete with the other codes. Similarly, as in the business world, where Coca-Cola owns Mt Franklin water, Heineken bottles Heineken 0.0 and mid-strength beers too. Your local cafe has a range of coffee options, including decaf.
Obviously there are those who like only 15s rugby, and that’s fine. But as a rugby 15s fan, think of yourself as a rugby shareholder. If the business of rugby does well and grows, you get the benefit as well. You don’t have to like it, but there’s an important value in not criticising it. That does not help the business.
With that out of the way, let’s look back at the last year – and what a last 12 months it was.
Cape Town did not finish how either squad would have liked, but on reflection it would be hard to not argue that the last year has been one of the best for Rugby Australia’s sevens program. Sure, the Rio Olympics gold in 2016 was the top of the pops, but both the men’s and the women’s programs have ticked some really big boxes. As Rugby Australia put out on social media, the men and women have had 14 podium finishes.
The Aussie misfits
No matter which way you want to dice it, the last 12 months for the men have been a cracker. Sure, there will be disappointment in the results from the Commonwealth Games and the World Cup, but if at the beginning of the World Rugby Sevens Series you said they would get six podium finishes from nine tournaments and take out the overall title, they would have more than accepted that. You would have to throw in winning the Hong Kong sevens as a cherry on top too.
The men delivered consistency with two firsts, two seconds, two thirds, a fourth, a fifth and a seventh. And let’s forget about Cape Town. For the players like Nick Malouf, Maurice Longbottom, Josh Turner and Henry Hutchinson, success has been a long time coming. They have been through more downs than ups. But no doubt the last 12 months have made all the hard work worthwhile.
To add to the adventure of the last 12 months, the men’s team have used 28 players. While there has been a core six or eight players, the others have come from the Super Rugby academies, such as Ben Dowling and Corey Toole and the majority have been selected from Shute Shield teams. There is no doubt John Manenti’s grassroots insights to Sydney club rugby have been critical. To bring a range of new players into the squad and get them working efficiently would have been a challenge otherwise.
The men will have to step up next year. The men’s World Rugby Sevens Series is currently the most competitive it has ever been. There are no easy games.
The Aussie women
From the outside looking in there probably was not a goal that was not ticked off in the last 12 months – a World Rugby Sevens Series title with four tournament wins, a Commonwealth Games gold medal and taking out the World Cup. Tick, tick, tick. The triple crown. No team has done all that in a single year. It is not just the wins; the women play at such a high tempo, which is enormously entertaining.
It has to be noted again that Charlotte Caslick took out player of the year, with Maddison Levi and Faith Nathan also nominated.
Add in the fact the average age is under 23 years old, which includes veteran Sharni Williams at 34.
Unlike the men, the women had a group of players from the very first tournament in Dubai 2021. There were 12 players who were involved in all of the seven series competitions, the Commonwealth Games and the World Cup. Up until Cape Town they had used just 16 players; then Faythe Manera and Isabella Nasser came in for the injured Lily Dick and Tia Hinds to take it to 18 players. Possibly the only player who came in from outside the main squad was Jesse Southwell, who came in for Langford, Toulouse and the Commonwealth Games before going back to the NRLW.
A highlight of the last 12 months for the women’s squad is how they have been able to keep all the players on the field for what has been a very long season. In addition, the coaching staff has really been able the develop the skills across the board. A couple of examples: Madison Ashby’s work over the ball is now a real strength, Alysia Lefau-Fakaosilea’s passing and distribution, Tia Hinds has stepped up enormously, and Faith Nathan’s spot tackles. Special mention also that the defence and tackle technique of all the players is outstanding.
The opportunity for Rugby Australia is to leverage the profiles of these extraordinary athletes. They have some great players, such as Maddison Levi, Faith Nathan, Madison Ashby, Alysia Lefau-Fakaosilea and of course – as Tim Walsh refers to her – the Empress, Charlotte Caslick. In the crowded Australian sporting landscape rugby has some players who are confident, articulate and have some real personalities too.
It has been a great 12 months.
Both squads are on a short break before getting back into it. Next stop: Hamilton, New Zealand from 21 January followed by Sydney from 27 January 2023.