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Aussie women launch Olympic season in style but men start with straight defeats - yet somehow make quarters

2nd December, 2023
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2nd December, 2023
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Australia’s sevens women have made a dazzling start to their Olympic-focused season, decorated by seven tries for Maddison Levi and a record scoreline in Dubai.

But the Australian men, who will be bolstered by the arrival of Wallaby great Michael Hooper in the New Year, looked out of sorts in the first event of the season’s new-look world series as they just managed to scrape into the quarter-finals.

Levi, recently short-listed as world women’s sevens player of the year, demonstrated just why as her team, the defending Dubai champs, blitzed into the last-eight on Saturday with a 39-0 win over Brazil,  an unprecedented 66-0 thrashing of Japan and a 33-5 trouncing of Ireland.

The World Cup-winning Aussies, who look poised to be serious challengers for Olympic gold in Paris next year, amassed 22 tries over their three group matches, with Levi speeding over for seven, Faith Nathan grabbing five and captain Charlotte Caslick, instrumental in most of their good work, adding four more.

The 10-try crushing of a normally competitive Japan side in an immaculate display represented their biggest-ever world series win, with Levi racing in for a hat-trick.

Having set a new record last season for the most tries scored in a single women’s series season with 57, the 21-year-old Levi looks in the mood to top that mark.

Yet coach Tim Walsh’s perfectionists would have been frustrated to see their all-conquering day end with Ireland crossing their line for the only time all day in the final minute of their final game.

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Caslick’s side will next meet the USA in Sunday’s quarter-finals.

“We have to defend her [Levi] all the time at training and it’s no easy task, that’s for sure,” the Olympic gold-medallist said.

“She’s just so fast, and then she’s also very strong and powerful, so if she doesn’t go around you, she’s often going through you.

“We love coming to play in the desert… We’re really happy so far with the team performance.”

“We’re lucky to get a pretty early finish [today], so we’ll go back to the hotel, just do our usual recovery process and have a good sleep before tomorrow.”

Another potential trans-Tasman showdown against the world’s best, New Zealand, also unbeaten in their three games, looming.

Yet, without Tyla Nathan-Wong, the Black Ferns struggled past South Africa to claim a 19-14 first-up win. Indeed, only a late try to veteran Sarah Hirini sealed the late win over the World Series Sevens new girls on the scene.

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In contrast, the Australian men kicked off in disappointing fashion, beaten 19-12 by Ireland and then outplayed 31-14 by Argentina.

In what had looked a must-win match against the Pumas, John Manenti’s side, who finished fifth last season after winning the series for the only time the previous year, were blown away in alarming fashion, already 26-0 down and practically out at halftime.

Argentine flyer Marcos Moneta, known affectionately as the ‘Money Man’ for his starring performances, went over for a hat-trick either side of the interval, while Dietrich Roache and Hayden Sargeant scored late consolations for the Aussies.  

But the Australians grabbed a lifeline, finishing with a 25-7 victory over Spain – with tries from Ben Dowling, Henry Palmer, Nathan Lawson, Nick Malouf and Sargeant – to ensure they nicked one of the two quarter-final places on offer to the best-placed third-place group finishers.

They’ll meet South Africa’s unbeaten ‘Blitzboks’, who pipped the All Blacks 21-19 in the day’s final match, in Sunday’s quarters.

“The first two games weren’t where we wanted them to be – to come out and put on a performance [against Spain], and luckily the calculations worked out that we got through to tomorrow,” captain Nick Malouf said.

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“What makes poor performances so frustrating is that we know we’re a good side – this morning was disappointing but, as that [match against Spain] shows, when we got the footy, when we do the simple things really well, we look good.

“Tomorrow’s a whole new day – nothing from today really counts, so we’ll put our best foot forward.”

The 32-year-old Hooper is to link up with the squad in January, with an eye on making his sevens debut in Australia’s home world series event in Perth later next month.

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