Courage And Tears In Australian Rugby Sevens Drama

Courage And Tears In Australian Rugby Sevens Drama 1920 1280 ISPS Handa

Maddison Levi broke down in tears after her second red card as Australia’s rugby sevens champions dug deep for a courageous 24-14 victory over arch-rivals New Zealand at the Perth Sevens. 

The Aussies gave up a 12-0 lead to trail 14-12 before their resilience shone with a two-try knockout punch that floored the Kiwis at the quarter-final stage. 

The Australian men’s team joined them in the semi-finals for a sold-out Sunday crowd of 19,000 at HBF Park by booking a clash against the flying Fijians after a strong 31-7 quarter-final win over the USA.

The rivalry between Australia and NZ is the most storied in the women’s rugby codes and this sudden-death match on Saturday at the HSBC SVNS Perth had drama almost in every twitch. 

The quarter-final was only 43-seconds old when Kiwi trump Jorja Miller was red carded for a head contact with Australia’s Bienne Terita. 

The Australians scored swiftly with a Faith Nathan try and a follow-up by Madi Ashby before the contest swung suddenly. 

Try-scorer Madi Ashby on the fly against New Zealand in the dramatic quarter-final at the HSBC SVNS Perth. Photo: Mike Lee – KLC fotos for World Rugby

Winger Levi was only back in action for this game after a three-game suspension for a high tackle at the Cape Town leg of the series wiped out any role in the three pool games at this event. 

Ten seconds from half-time she met a charging Stacey Waaka with a solid contact that became her right shoulder on the Kiwi’s head. She was a downcast figure trotting off when a red card was flashed but burst into tears once she reached the sideline. 

“We talk about courage being currency and you saw massive courage out there with six-on-six,” said veteran Australian player Sharni Smale. 

“We had clear messaging from Walshy (coach Tim Walsh) with our strategies playing with six players so we knew our jobs.” 

Maddison Levi (right) is consoled by victory and teammate Madi Ashby after the dramatic quarter-final. Photo: Mike Lee – KLC fotos for World Rugby

The Australians rallied around Levi who joins sister Teagan under suspension after her younger sibling’s three-game suspension for a dangerous tackle in Friday’s preliminaries. Teagan will be available for Sunday’s gold or bronze medal match depending on how the Australians advance from Sunday’s semi-final against the USA (12.46pm Perth time). 

“It’s clearly a little issue. It’s all about tackling low, right?. We did concentrate on it entering the week so we’ll go back to the drawing board,” Smale added.  

The Australians looked to be on the back foot just after half-time when Kiwi finisher Michaela Blyde scored after a bounce pass looked to have caught part of her arm for a knock-on. It was play on and suddenly the home side was on the backfoot behind 14-12. 

A long-range try engineered and finished by captain Charlotte Caslick, with classy interplay with standout Terita, regained the lead before a Dom Du Toit clincher. 

“I’ve never experienced a game like that,” said Walsh. 

“That’s the beauty of sport, the unpredictability of it, and then the ability for teams to react and show some character. I’m just a proud coach after that and we reset for Sunday.”

The men matched the women with by far their best display of the tournament to reach a semi-final against Olympic gold medallists Fiji (1.34pm Perth time). The 31-7 win over the USA was emphatic just 24 hours after losing to the same team in pool play. 

After two erratic losses in pool play, the experienced Maurice Longbottom, two-try factor Nathan Lawson, 20-year-old Henry Palmer and fit-again Henry Hutchison shone for the home team. 

“We’d been disappointed with some of the highs and lows of our tournament. We had a heart-to-heart and knew we’d worked so hard to get that performance,” a delighted coach John Manenti said. 

“We were really clinical and sharp. I had a gut feeling about Henry Hutchison. This was his first game as a starter since he did his knee a year ago. I felt he really want to prove something and he did set a tone for us by going after it.” 

It was Hutchison’s urgency over the ball that earned a penalty just on half-time and set up the Nathan Lawson try on the shortside for 21-0 at the break. Young Palmer is just 20 and his acrobatic dive and right-handed plant of the ball for the next try put the Australians out of reach. 

Semi-finals don’t come any tougher than against the Fijians, who have already won late against France, NZ and quarter-final rivals South Africa in this tournament. 

The 24-7 upset of Fiji in the Cape Town leg of the series last month feeds confidence that the Australians can do it again. 

“That win (over the USA) obviously means a lot. Beating Fiji in Cape Town showed we can beat anyone,” Palmer said. 

“We obviously respect Fiji highly as one of best sevens sides ever and we have the feeling we can go all the way.”