What a weekend by the Australia Super Rugby teams. While the majority of the focus has been on the Super Rugby, there was also a round of the World Rugby Sevens Series in Toulouse.
Not a big issue in the grand scheme of a year with a World Cup and the start of the women’s inaugural WXV global tournament. But still very significant, especially for the Aussie sevens men.
So, what happened over the weekend?
First up the women, in reality it was a really odd weekend. On an individual level all hail Maddison Levi. In only her second season, broke the all-time season try-scoring record with 57 tries, a record set by Portia Woodman 10 years ago.
It was an odd tournament. They played Ireland and France twice. In terms of team performance, on one hand they lost a pool game to France and probably played one of their worst semi-finals, let alone games, in a long time against the USA. But still finished the weekend with a bronze medal with a win over France. A good way to finish the season.
Despite the bronze it was not one of their best weekends. They seemed scratchy from the second pool game against Ireland.
Their first game was a bit of an opposed training run against Brazil and while the score against Ireland was a 33-12 win, it was not really convincing. The game turned just after half-time with an individual try by Teagan Levi. Up to that point Ireland seemed to have their measure.
Then France, who always seem to cause them problems. The Aussies changed their starting line-up and were just not on, too many missed tackles and dropped balls.
The quarter-final was another battle against Ireland, with the Aussies getting up 17-7.
In the semi-final the Aussies could not play their usual fast game, the USA were again just too big, powerful and slowed the game down. Australia found it difficult to tackle them to the ground quickly. Although do have to mention Alysia Lefau-Fakaosilea and Teagan Levi, who matched the aggression.
In the bronze medal game they changed their starting lineup giving players such as Lily Dick, Tia Hinds, and Bienne Terita some game time. Maddi Levi cracked another hat-trick of tries. It clicked and they defeated France 33-7.
Their season is over. Not sure how you rate it, especially if you try to compare it to last season. But this season they came second in the standings, won a gold, three silvers, three bronzes and qualified for the Paris Olympics. It is a mighty fine season. But it cannot be ignored the Series winners, the Kiwis, won the last six tournaments.
They now have a break until the Series starts again in December.
What about the Aussie men?
Last weekend was and next weekend will be all about stress, pressure, anxiety and trying to enjoy playing rugby.
Like the women, last weekend was a really mixed bag. They went through the pool stage undefeated and were looking very good. Winning is what they need to do as the Aussie men are teetering on that final spot to automatically qualify for the Olympics. They needed to go deep into the tournament to obtain as many points as possible and repeat that, next weekend in London.
Come quarter-final time, things went awry when they surprisingly lost to Canada. Not only did they go down to 12-10, they lost Darby Lancaster for the rest of the weekend and probably next weekend in London.
A quarter-final win would have got them into the semi-final to collect more points to keep ahead of Samoa and South Africa who were just one and six points behind the Aussies in the standings.
After the loss to Canada they could have dropped their heads. Instead, they reset for a fifth placed semi-final against South Africa. In the first half South Africa seemed to have all the possession and the Aussies spent a lot of time just defending their line.
At half-time the South Africans were only up 12-7. Not exciting, but Maurice Longbottom’s sideline conversion of the Henry Paterson try proved to be critical in the end. Early in the second half Tim Clements scored, then the old heads of Longbottom and Nick Malouf combined for a try. In the dying seconds captain Malouf made a sensational tackle that resulted in a penalty, the Aussies kicked it out, and took the win 21-19.
If the Aussie men qualify for Paris, they can look back at Malouf’s tackle as being key.
After the win over South Africa they needed to get up again and defeat Ireland for fifth place, which they did 26-21. They looked a bit shaky to start with, a couple of missed tackles resulted in Irish tries. It was 14-14 at half-time but a quick try just after the restart gave them a lead which they kept and built on.
Josh Turner had a good game setting up a couple of tries, with Nathan Lawson getting a hat-trick.
The men are now nine points ahead of both Samoa and South Africa. A bit battered and bruised, on to London this weekend which will decide whether they automatically qualify for the Olympics.
Knife’s edge. Pressure. Anxiety. It is why you play sport and watch it.