South Africa dramatically retained their overall World Sevens Series title by beating England in the final of the last of 10 tournaments on Sunday.
The Blitzboks’ 24-14 victory in Paris ensured they overhauled Fiji in the overall standings by 182 to 180 points.
It was only their second tournament victory out of 10 in the 2017/18 season compared to Fiji’s five — including the last four in a row — but South Africa’s consistency in reaching at least the semi-finals of every event proved decisive.
England’s 19-17 victory over Fiji in the quarter-finals — thanks to a stunning winning try at the end of a 26-pass move — was crucial despite the Pacific Islanders bouncing back to claim fifth place with a 28-7 win over the United States.
In the final Werner Kok opened the scoring for the Boks before the English went ahead through scores from Oliver Lindsay-Hague and Dan Norton.
A Ryan Oosthuizen try levelled matters at 14-14 before Dewald Human got South Africa’s third and a Justin Geduld penalty secured the win.
In the women’s final, Australia clinched the series title despite losing to New Zealand 33-7 in the final.
And over the last few years there have been matches that have made local rugby fans hearts’ swell with pride – the 23-18 defeat of the All Blacks in Brisbane last year and the 33-13 dismantling of England at Twickenham on the Man of Gold’s run to the Rugby World Cup Final in 2015, just to name a couple.
But there are very few that have lifted Australian sports fans’ spirits as much as the extraordinary 18-9 victory over Ireland in Brisbane last weekend in the opening match of the Mitsubishi Estate series.
To put the win in perspective this was an Australian team coming off just six days preparation, with three new caps in the 23, facing up to World No2 Ireland, the current Six Nations Grand Slam champions, who were on a 12-game winning streak.
Often Cheika’s comments on playing an Australian style have been interpreted as being in the mold of Mark Ella and David Campese ball-in-hand magic.
But even more than the razzle-dazzle what the Australian public wants to see, is 15 players in gold jerseys who will tackle like their lives depend on it.
And that’s what the Wallabies gave in bucket-fulls in Brisbane. There were huge hits right from the kick off in the team’s most committed defensive performance in recent memory.
One hit from Marika Koroibete on Conor Murray was eye-popping as was another from Michael Hooper on Joey Carbery, just to name a few.
This was a victory built on defence, set-piece and when the opportunity arose, scintillating backline play.
In nearly every facet of the game, except lineouts, Australia were the better team.
With the platform provided by Australia’s pack and Will Genia’s speedy service Bernard Foley was able to unleash his runners Dane Haylett-Petty, Koroibete, Samu Kerevi and of course the peerless Israel Folau.
The NSW No15’s stunning aerial skills may in the end have been the difference between the two sides.
Kurtley Beale was also breathtaking in an attacking (and defensive) display that was near his very best.
There was a lot of talk before the match about how young Munster-bound fly-half Carbery would handle the pressure of starting in such a big Test but to his credit he held up well, showing he belongs at this level.
But as the game wore on the Wallabies No10 Bernard Foley stamped his own authority in his kicking and distribution.
Even when Ireland’s first choice No10 Johnny Sexton came into the game Foley continued to dominate.
Then in the tight five, Australia’s very own fairy-tale, Brandon Paenga-Amosa, the garbo who rose to become a Wallaby, starting his first Test at hooker.
He can look back at his Test debut with distinction and with more experience under his belt, and some more accurate line out throws, could become a key part of Cheika’s side for years to come.
The Australian scrum, expected to be dominated by the fearsome Ireland pack, stood up much better than expected and Adam Coleman was a strong presence for Australia, as was James Ryan for Ireland.
In the loose forwards this was one of the best back row battles ever seen on Australian soil.
David Pocock stood tall all game, in his first Test in 18 months, and put in his best performances in a gold jersey since the 2015 Rugby World Cup. He was a constant menace at the ruck making the Ireland pack work harder and harder to retain possession – and he took his match sealing try superbly.
He was ably assisted by Michael Hooper and Caleb Timu with new Brumbies signing Peter Samu also making an impression with his brief cameo.
Loved being back on the field with the @qantaswallabies. Thanks for all the support!— David Pocock (@pocockdavid) June 10, 2018
Thanks to Ireland for the game and congrats to Brandon Paenga-Amosa, Caleb Timu and Pete Samu on their first game in the green and gold.
Big couple of weeks ahead. pic.twitter.com/7zvPPGxxu2
As Cheika said afterwards, “Looking at previous games, Ireland, particularly in the forward pack, have outworked other teams.”
“I felt like we needed to win the ‘hard work’ battle just to have a foothold in the game and then see what our backs could from there.”
And that is exactly how the game unfolded. But what Cheika would have hammered into the Wallabies heads as soon as they left the field was the job is only half done.
The triumph in Brisbane will mean nothing unless the Men of Gold claim the series.
“The big thing for us has been consistency,” he said. “We have had real highs over the last couple of years and we’ve got to stay consistent over the rest of the series.
“It’s about mindset every week. We’ve got to have that winner’s mindset all the time.”
As for Ireland coach Joe Schmidt he will be disappointed his side did not claim their first win in Australia for 39 years, though admitting the Wallabies were “incredibly physical.”
“We got in behind them a couple of times and probably over-kicked the ball,” he admitted after the game. “We probably didn’t hold onto the ball as well as we would have liked.
“[David] Pocock obviously put a lot of pressure on and he always makes a big difference to a team. Apart from that, I don’t think there was too much between the teams.”
“We’ll just have to dust ourselves off… and get the margins to fall our way, albeit they were pretty skinny today.”
The Wallabies will be desperate to clinch the series in Melbourne this Saturday while Ireland will be just as desperate to keep it alive another week till Sydney.
It all adds up to another high quality rugby test played at heart-stopping intensity.
The announcement of this new addition brings the number of rounds on the women’s series to six, guaranteeing more competitive playing opportunities for series participants on their route to qualification for the 2020 Olympics.
The new HSBC USA Women’s Sevens round kicks off on 20-21 October, followed by existing rounds Dubai, Sydney, Kitakyushu, Langford and Paris.
The tournament will be held at Infinity Park, the state-of-the-art 4,000 seat stadium in the heart of Glendale, Colorado’s rugby epicenter and premier setting for rugby in the USA.
World Rugby Chairman Bill Beaumont today said, “We are delighted to be expanding the HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series next season, creating and delivering more high-performance quality competitions for participating teams, which is a key strand of the wider Women’s Plan 2017-25.
“Rugby sevens has played an important role in the growth and development of the women’s game. The outstanding success of the women’s sevens competition at Rio 2016, delivered a huge boost globally in terms of participation, profile and engagement.
“In recent times we have seen the world series continue to win new fans and inspire players worldwide with its mix of impressive skill, high-octane rugby and exciting atmosphere.”
“We are thrilled to have a HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series stop return to the United States next season,” said USA Rugby General Manager of Women’s High Performance, Emilie Bydwell.
“With the considerable growth of women’s rugby, having a home tournament provides an access point for the community with our Women’s Eagles Sevens.
“Glendale is an incredible venue and the opportunity to kick off an Olympic Qualification Season at home in front of our athletes’ family, friends and fans is amazing.
“Subsequently, followed up by the Women’s Eagles home match against the Black Ferns just two weeks later, demonstrates commitment to driving the Women’s game forward in this country.”
Otherwise known as RugbyTown, Infinity Park is nestled within a community that has seen the rise of rugby first-hand.
With year-round events hosted across club, college and professional programs, including all home games for the Glendale Raptors of the newly formed Major League Rugby, and Glendale Merlins of the Women’s Premier League, the stadium encapsulates the increasing excitement for the sport, making it a prime location to further catapult the growth of the women’s game.
Glendale Mayor, Mike Dunafon, added, ““We are honored to have been chosen as the venue to host the HSBC USA Women’s Sevens tournament; and look forward to welcoming the athletes, families, and fans to RugbyTown USA.”
2018 is set to be an exciting year for rugby sevens with the Rugby World Cup Sevens taking place in San Francisco 20-22 July, providing further opportunity to inspire and engage new participants and fans in the USA and around the world.
The tournament promises to be a spectacular event, with three days of thrilling action in the iconic AT&T Park.
A full schedule for the upcoming HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series 2019 will be announced following the conclusion of the 2018 series which comes to an exciting climax this weekend, with the final round of both the women’s and men’s series taking place in Paris.
Tickets to the Glendale event will also soon be released.