A stunning Irish upset has left Australian captain Charlotte Caslick rueing that the Perth Sevens party was spoiled by high emotions and poor discipline.
The 19-14 loss in the final was as unexpected for the big home crowd as it was for a team chasing a hat-trick of titles after wins in Dubai and Cape Town already this season.
It meant a double dose of disappointment for Australian fans because the men’s team in green-and-gold came unstuck 31-5 against a vastly-superior Argentinian side in the final to follow.
- All the Day Three results: Perth SVNS Day Three RECAP: Australia defeated in both finals on home soil (rugby.com.au)
The Irish women were superb in winning their first trophy at a World Series level at the HSBC SVNS Perth.
“Losing at home always hurts. I think the emotional toll and the lack of discipline through the whole tournament let us down. Regardless of the result there, we have a lot to work on with Paris (Olympics) as the big goal,” Caslick said.
“We definitely dealt with a lot of adversity and had lots of scenarios to learn from. Losing ‘BB’ (Bienne Terita) in the semi-final hurt because she was playing incredible, probably the best in the tournament.
“Credit to Ireland. The depth in the World Series continues to grow. David Nucifora (Ireland’s high-performance chief) is an Aussie and has been a huge influence in Irish rugby improving.”
It’s only a few years since Ireland’s core figures Stacey Flood and Eve Higgins, who scored the winning try, headed to Australia’s Gold Coast to play and learn what it would take to lift Irish sevens from the lower rungs to the penthouse.
They are now there and their post-match celebrations on the podium with the trophy and gold medals around their necks was a sight that showed there is now another heavyweight in women’s sevens.
A loop play from a Madi Ashby pass put Caslick over for the perfect 7-0 start but a rash of penalties against the Australians turned the tide. A Caslick yellow card on half-time meant the Aussies were playing with a mismatch of playing numbers for the third time in the tournament. Ireland’s Lucy Mulhall capitalised with the try for a 14-7 lead at the break.
Caslick was back on the field for less than a minute when she worked a switch play that put Teagan Levi over under the posts. 14-all.
Levi’s energy on return from a three-game suspension was also valuable. Two misfires on kick-offs were costly and she was flattened in a tackle and had to be replaced briefly.
The substance of this tournament wasn’t all tied up in the result of the final because of the resilience and attitude shown to meet hiccups throughout the five earlier games.
The Australians bounced back from a 19-12 pool loss to Great Britain, rose above losing Maddison and Teagan Levi to red cards and covered the grounding of Terita with injury.
Bella Nasser, who shone with extra minutes as a result, set up one of the tries of the semi-final with a dummy switch and then inside pass for the Sharni Smale score.
She knew the meaning of the tough progress: “It’s Olympic year, you do heaps of training and you’ve got to be super-resilient through all the changes to achieve what you want.
“There’s a real sisterhood within this team to step up when you need to.”
Fun is never far from the delivery of a serious message. The recent red card blight of high tackles was addressed by savvy coach Tim Walsh at the team meeting before Sunday’s exploits in the finals.
“Walshy put tape low across the doorway to get into the team meeting to remind us of body height. Maddi crawled under the tape. Teagan limbo-ed under,” Nasser said with a laugh.
The 24-7 semi-final win over the USA featured a brilliant zig-zag stepping try from beyond halfway by Dom du Toit.
The men ran into a red-hot Argentinian side which showed why they are at the top of the standings. Winger Marcos Moneta was lightning in scoring his eighth try of the tournament and the size of the South Americans told too.
“Sevens is a fickle game. We were 7-0 down and hadn’t really had the ball halfway through the final,” Australia’s Henry Hutchison said.
“Beating Fiji (in the semi-final) definitely gives us confidence that we are competing week in, week out with one of the best sevens teams and can get the better of them (at back-to-back events).”
Added coach John Manenti: “Where we were on Friday morning (losing a pool game) to making the final took big strides. The end goal is Paris at the Olympics.
“The more exposure to the heightened intensity of really big finals like this the better. The venue was sensational and the crowd was right behind us.
“The Argentinians are a really hot side. We also have plenty to be proud of…‘Hutch’ coming back well after a long-term injury, Moz (Maurice Longbottom) being outstanding and how much our young wingers (Henry Palmer and Darby Lancaster) showed.”
Australia’s 22-7 victory over Olympic gold medallists Fiji in the semi-finals was the performance which boomed the team’s medal credentials for the Paris Olympics in July.
The margin belied how close the contest was and the pressure absorbed by the home side in the tight first half (7-all) with top tackling and getting in the offload lanes to disrupt the favourites.
Regardless of the result in the final, it showed that the Australians are a serious medal factor for the Paris Olympics in July because it followed a similar 24-7 upset of Fiji in Cape Town last month.
“The plan was putting the pressure on (Fiji). They are an unstructured team and we like the structure so we had to set rucks, get in their offload channels and it can ruin their game,” a delighted Longbottom said after the game.
Longbottom made one of the key calls of the tournament when shooting for the only penalty goal of the tournament, a decision that even had Australians in the crowd booing.
The Aussies led 12-7 when Ben Dowling and Nick Malouf both made harassing tackles that forced the Fijians back 10m and into a penalty. With the game inside the final two minutes, Longbottom used up as much time on the clock as possible before taking the kick and the three points for a 15-7 break.
“The call was all about chewing up as much time as possible,” Longbottom explained.
The final Palmer try was just cream on the top.
Comeback man Hutchison won plaudits from Longbottom: “Hutchy gets in there, does a lot of work and chops down them big boys (with his tackles).”
It was Hutchison, zooming into the ruckbase, who threw the long, clearing pass to put captain Malouf over for the opening try.