A titanic quarter-final against arch-rivals New Zealand awaits the Australian team after a bounce-back win at Perth’s peak rugby sevens tournament.
Midfield maestro Madi Ashby crossed for two tries in Australia’s 31-14 victory over Canada on Saturday morning to restore winning vibes after the 19-12 tumble to Great Britain on Friday night.
The temperature at the HSBC SVNS Perth had hit 30 degrees just before noon local time when Alysia Lefau-Fakaosilea scored the first of the Aussie girls’ five tries in the clearcut result.
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It meant second place in Pool A was secured but the flipside is a sudden-death date with the Kiwis on Saturday night in a match-up which is far more often a final for a trophy.
“Obviously, we want to beat NZ but the beauty of sevens is that anything can happen in these games,” said Ashby, part of the team which beat NZ for the trophy in Dubai last month.
“Our team thrives in the heat. We know that.”
Winning the Perth tournament on home soil is a major target for the Australians but also a stepping stone to the year’s biggest prize at the Paris Olympics in July. On that level, handling the hiccups of having both Teagan and Maddison Levi under suspension for dangerous tackles was the sub-plot of the game against Canada.
Teagan’s dangerous tackle against Great Britain on Friday incurred a three-game ban while Maddison’s three-game ban from Cape Town last month is now up. She’ll be fired up for the quarter-final as her first game of the tournament.
“Losing is learning is how we put it. We’ll definitely have to practice our tackle tech when we go back to training, dip the hips and legs more.”
Ashby celebrated her 23rd birthday with her teammates on January 22. The closeness of this team is one of its strengths and Ashby knows it translates onto the field.
“I’ve been part of the sevens team since I was 16-years-old and played with some of the girls since I was 10. We are a very tight team. We call it a sisterhood,” Ashby said.
Encouraging young, aspiring rugby players, boys and girls, to try sevens is one of the missions to ISPS HANDA supporting Australia’s two sevens teams with sponsorship.
Ashby lives the message: “It’s huge. The more we get around the younger generation, the better it is for our sport and the better it is for the crowd. They love it,” Ashby said.
A 65m gallop for her fourth try of the tournament was another standout moment against Canada from winger Bienne Terita because it showed her balance to skip out of two tackles as well as her pace.
The Australian men fell 19-10 to Ireland on Saturday morning for a second loss in the preliminaries but still advanced to the quarter-finals as one of the two best third-placed teams from pool play. There was no such joy for the Kiwis with a shock exit before the quarter-finals after pool losses to France (33-17) and, on the last play, to Fiji (21-14).
Australian skipper Nick Malouf saw the big upside: “We have a clear understanding of how we want to play but it’s not transferring to the games at the moment. We are in the quarters and anything can happen from here.”
The Aussies get a shot at redemption against the USA in the quarter-finals. Putting the clamps on American speedster Perry Baker must be the start of it after he decided their pool game 19-14.
“We know the danger he poses so shutting down his space is what we have to aim for,” Malouf said.
Malouf is hoping to use his team’s own wing weapon to hurt the USA because flyer Darby Lancaster produced another fine in-and-away to score a try against Ireland.
“It’s nice watching him out there. We’re just not giving him enough ball,” Malouf said of a situation that has to change.