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After the rollercoaster ride of stress and anxiety in London, the last tournament of the season, we had to bash out some final rugby sevens words. Everyone can relax, no more planned sevens words until maybe when the season restarts at the end of the year.
For the Aussie men the 2022 season was epic as they took out their first-ever World Rugby Sevens Series title. This season’s performance and journey to qualify for the Olympics has also been epic, just in a different way.
This is the first time Australia has qualified automatically for the Olympics. To get to both Rio and Tokyo they had to get through regional qualifiers. So, automatic qualification is a significant achievement – congratulations to John Manenti, his coaching team and obviously the players.
Some context: the men qualified for the Olympics by the barest of margins, one point ahead of Samoa. Australia finished on 133 points, Samoa 132 points. Going into London, Australia led Samoa by nine points, Australia finished seventh receiving eight points, Samoa finished third getting 16 points.
If Australia had finished eighth they would have missed out. If Samoa had reached the final, no matter what Australia did, they would have missed the automatic Paris Olympics qualification.
In terms of the season, London was in their top three worst results.
During the season there were more than a few hurdles and challenges. First up, the World Rugby Sevens Rookie of the Year Corey Toole returned to Super Rugby, so they lost a serious bit of strike power.
Talisman captain Nick Malouf got injured and was out of five of the 11 tournaments.
Then replacement captain Henry Hutchinson got injured and he has been out for the last six tournaments. So, that put a big dent in the experience depth of the team. In rugby sevens speed is a key, and for four or five tournaments they lost speedster, ‘Jimmy the Jet’, James Turner.
There is a pretty solid core of players in the squad. I’m not sure how many are full-time now, maybe seven or eight. Interestingly, the captain Malouf is not even included on the rugby.com.au Aussie sevens mens web page. It’s sort of a semi-pro squad who Manenti refers to as “the misfits”.
Over the 11 tournaments Manenti used around 20 players. It may be a hasty generalisation but all the players who were brought in seemed to fit in seamlessly and performed their roles. Interestingly, while there are a couple of 20-year-old youngsters like Darby Lancaster and Dally Bird, most of the players are in their mid-twenties and have a bit of rugby behind them.
We do have to mention 20-year-old Lancaster, who became an absolute star for the Aussie sevens, unfortunately he did get injured in Toulouse and was unavailable for the London tournament. He was missed.
Keep an eye out, he is in the Junior Wallabies who will be competing in South Africa next month.
It is not necessary to go through the ups and downs of the tournament. There were a few missed opportunities, a mistake here and there, a missed tackle here and there and a yellow card in the quarter-final. There were also some great tries. But in the end, none of it matters, they qualified for the Olympics.
As mentioned last week back in Toulouse, Malouf made a desperate tackle against South Africa in the dying seconds of the fifth-place semi-final to win the game. If Australia qualified for the Olympics they could look back at that tackle as defining, and it was.
A huge amount of credit and kudos must go to Manenti and his coaching crew for getting the players through the highs and lows of the season, it has been a real mixed bag. No doubt the primary goal was to qualify for the Olympics; goal achieved.
Last point: for the Aussie women, Toulouse was their last tournament and most of them attended the London Sevens supporting the men, which was great to see.