The Australian men’s sevens team has won a World Series title for the first time, breaking a drought longer than the Wallabies’ Bledisloe Cup hoodoo.
Rugby Australia’s decision late last year to swap the head coaches of the men’s and women’s programs has proven a masterstroke, with both teams now celebrating world champion status in a remarkable turnaround from dual failures at the Tokyo Olympics.
Australia’s men’s side, featuring a number of players plucked from club rugby, needed a third-place finish in the final tournament of the series in Los Angeles to top the standings and win their first title since the world series began in 1999.
A 29-10 semi-final loss to Fiji meant it was all or nothing for Australia in the bronze medal match against Samoa.
Australia conceded an early try but settled the nerves to bank five-pointers through Corey Toole and Henry Paterson for a 14-7 half-time lead.
When New South Welshman Dietrich Roache crossed in the second half, Australia knew that months of hard work were about to pay off.
Australia celebrate winning the World Rugby Sevens Series in Los Angeles.Credit:AP
Australia claimed a 21-7 victory and celebrated like a team without a world title to their name for 23 years. For context, Australia last won the Bledisloe Cup in 2002.
For years the men’s sevens players have lived in the shadows of their female counterparts but now have their moment in the sun.
“This medal is a reflection of the consistency the boys have shown,” coach John Manenti said on the World Rugby coverage. “A lot of boys contributed and it’s been a pretty amazing run.”
Captain Nick Malouf was ecstatic after his team’s title triumph.
“I am so happy. I don’t think it’s sunk in yet,” Malouf said. “A huge accomplishment for so much hard work. I couldn’t be prouder of the whole squad.
“I look back to the start of this season. We had six guys contracted and when Johnny came in with Chucky [assistant coach James Stannard]. From day one we said all we wanted to do every day was be consistent. I think, for the first time in a while, we’ve been able to do that.
“It’s been so good to win it this year.”
Australia’s male and female sevens side bombed out in the quarter-finals of the Tokyo Olympics, which led to a review of both programs.
The men’s team was also given formal warnings after a boozy flight home from the Games, which did not go down well with senior RA officials.
“It is without doubt that this will have a bearing on how we look at the sevens environment going forward,” RA chief executive Andy Marinos said in August last year.
RA swapped the head coaches of the men’s and women’s programs. Tim Walsh, who helped Australia’s female team win gold at the 2016 Olympics, was put back in charge of the women’s side, while Manenti was tasked with turning around the men’s fortunes.
Australia’s women took out the world series earlier this year – for the third time – before winning gold at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games.
The men’s side came fourth in Birmingham but rebounded to secure enough points to win the world title.
Australia (126 points) edged out South Africa (124) and Fiji (122) in the final men’s standings.
New Zealand, who finished eighth, did not feature in the first four tournaments due to travel-related issues around COVID-19.
“It’s very special,” Manenti said. “Chucky and I were involved in both programs. It’s certainly nice to have the double.”
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