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Rugby: Australia nudge further clear of England in Olympics race

Australia won the Plate in Hong Kong to move six points clear of England in the race in the HSBC Sevens World Series. Photo: World Rugby / Martin Seras Lima.

Australia won the Plate in Hong Kong to move six points clear of England. Photo: World Rugby / Martin Seras Lima.

March 29, 2015: Australia coach Geraint John believes the race for the top four spots in the 2014/15 HSBC Sevens World Series will go down to the ninth and final round in London as teams seek automatic qualification for next year’s Olympics.

 

Australia won the Plate at the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens on Sunday evening to move to 84 points, a crucial six points clear of England in the race for fourth place. Argentina (64) and USA (63) are sixth and seventh respectively, while South Africa (110), Fiji (108) and New Zealand (107) are well clear of the chasing pack.

 

The Wallabies held a three-point lead over England heading to Hong Kong, but doubled their lead after six rounds following a 12-7 win over Simon Amor’s men in the Plate semi-finals and a 21-17 victory over USA in the final.

 

Although John said he was playing down the Olympics in team talks, the Welshman did admit booking a place in Rio was a major incentive for the top teams.

 

“We didn’t mention it at all this weekend, not even prior to playing England. We know it’s going to go down to the last weekend in London, but I prefer to be where we are than six points behind us,” said John, who took over as Australia sevens coach last May.

 

Nick Malouf tries to power through a USA tackle in the Plate final in Hong Kong. Photo: AFP.

Nick Malouf tries to power through a USA tackle in the Plate final in Hong Kong. Photo: AFP.

“We’re trying to just keep our focus in terms of what we need to do on the field, on our performances, and hopefully that will get us in the top four by mid-May.

 

“Everybody wants to go to the Olympics. It’s the first very first time rugby sevens is being played and it’s in Rio, not a bad place to go. We want to be there.”

 

Captained by long-serving forward Ed Jenkins, Australia have become one of the best defensive sides on the Series. After beating Portugal (33-5) and Scotland (21-5), John’s men put up a strong performance against New Zealand before losing 14-5 in their final pool match, then led Series leaders South Africa 5-0 in the Cup quarter-final before going down 7-5.

 

“I thought we performed really well this weekend. I thought we played really well against New Zealand last night. I thought we played exceptionally well against South Africa this morning, especially defensively, and then did well against England and USA,” John said.

 

“I’m really happy with what we’ve done this weekend, but would we want to do better? Yeah, we want to be in the top four in every competition.”

 

John even believes that Australia are closing in on the big three of South Africa, Fiji and New Zealand, who between them have won every Series event since England triumphed in Wellington in February 2013.

 

“I thought we were pretty close this weekend. I thought defensively, we’re probably there; I thought the intensity was there. I think we just have to be a little bit smarter in attack and a little bit more creative in attack. We can work on that. I wouldn’t think those teams would want to play us next week.”

 

For tournament information, visit: www.hksevens.com

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