Aussies see resurgence after decent recent run
The era of Australian underachievement at the Hong Kong Sevens - and elsewhere on the IRB Sevens Series - appears to be over.
For a nation with a pedigree that has seen the Wallabies win the 15s World Cup twice, their performance in the shortened form of the game has fallen well short.
But a 12-5 win over South Africa in the final of the Plate yesterday follows up semi-final finishes in the Cup competitions in Adelaide and Las Vegas, proving things are changing, says captain Pat McCutcheon.
'Australia this year has put a lot more emphasis on its sevens programme,' McCutcheon said.
'Looking at our results last year, we were always finishing seventh and eighth and we were playing for the Bowl or the Shield a lot of the time. So it's good to see we can win a Plate final and in the last two tournaments - in Adelaide and Las Vegas - we have been in the Cup semi-finals. It's good progression over the last two tournaments and we've been improving.'
'The Wallabies coach, Robbie Deans, is placing more emphasis on the sevens programme and that's where he's choosing his Wallabies.
'Plus, the introduction of sevens into the Olympic Games has put more emphasis on the game as well. More people are interested in going to the Olympics and representing our country, so I think not only the players are more interested, there's a great interest in the coaching staff and in the development of sevens rugby.'
Despite their joy at winning the Plate - their first win in the competition since 1984 - there was still significant disappointment within the Australian camp at their inability to match, or even surpass, their performances in recent competitions.
A 26-19 loss to England in the Cup quarter-finals put paid to those chances and McCutcheon and his teammates had to raise their spirits to take on and beat the US in the Plate semi-finals before defeating the South Africans.
The win came thanks to a pair of tries from Robbie Coleman.
'It was a pretty disappointing loss to England, that really hurt the boys deep,' said McCutcheon. 'So, for the boys to be able to clear their heads and refocus and win that semi-final and go on and win the Plate, it's a great credit to their playing ability.
'After finishing in Adelaide and getting through to the Cup semi-finals we were looking to improve our result. But I don't think we played our best football this weekend and that will give us something to work on over the next couple weeks.
'In the longer scheme of things, the points help you in the world series so the four extra points are what we need and that will help us position-wise.'
For the South Africans, their Hong Kong hoodoo continues. They won the IRB Sevens Series last year but have never triumphed at So Kon Po since their first appearance in the competition in 1993.
Paul Treu's team ended up in the Plate competition after losing by just two points against Fiji in the quarter-finals of the Cup in what was a repeat of last year's final, but they picked themselves up to hand Kenya a 19-12 loss in the semi-finals of the Plate.
That set up the clash with the Australians, which ended in another failure for South Africa.
'From our side, we didn't use our opportunities in the first place,' said Ryno Benjamin.
'We missed a lot of tackles and we didn't stick to our game plan, so now we just have to look forward to the next tournament.
'We have to learn from our mistakes. We still have a lot of things to do and we're just going to have to go forward one step at a time.'