Rugby

Australia triumphs at Hong Kong Sevens for the first time in 34 years | Australia rugby team

Australia’s men’s rugby team scored a remarkable triumph at the Hong Kong Sevens, winning the world tour’s blue band event for the first time in 34 years.

Coached by John Manenti, the team proved their world series triumph may just be the start of something big on Sunday as they kicked off their 2022-23 campaign by beating Olympic and World Cup champions Fiji 20-17. in the final after an exciting finish. .

“How good are Australians?” smiled his captain, Nick Malouf, after his team achieved the first Hong Kong win for his nation since the amateur era of rugby in 1988.

Nathan Lawson’s exciting late try to win the gold medal against the Fijians was a superb conclusion to a day in which the team affectionately known as ‘the Manenti misfits’ once again displayed fantastic resilience, skill and courage to win their three knockout matches in unlikely fashion.

In the final, they had to come back from 12-0 down against five-time defending champions Fiji and ultimately cruised to victory with just 22 seconds left after trailing 17-15.

All seemed lost when the Fijians won a last minute penalty, but wonderful work from Maurice Longbottom saw him hit Manueli Maisamoa and the ball came loose, before Stuart Dunbar picked it up and placed Lawson flying into the corner for the gold test.

A video review was needed before the try was awarded, which was accomplished as two tacklers attempted to push Lawson over the touchline, sparking wild celebrations at Hong Kong Stadium.

The electric Longbottom, the Rabbitohs’ junior rugby league convert once dubbed ‘too small for senior football’, proved to be Australia’s biggest hero over the three days, culminating in his player of the ultimate prize.

Previously, they were like Houdini in coming back from 19-5 in the quarter-final against Ireland, earning victory only when the full-time gong sounded, with Longbottom finishing off a dazzling team try to seal the 26-19 win.

Then, in the semi-finals, after converting Josh Turner’s earlier try, it was Longbottom’s nerveless penalty kick in extra time that carried them to a thrilling 10-7 victory over France.

“It’s pretty surreal,” he said. “In six years of playing seven I’ve never received this award, and I’ve finally scored it, so I’m over the moon.”

But he felt all his team-mates had been outstanding too, as the Aussies defied the odds after injuries to two key men, Jimmy Turner and Darby Lancaster, left them without recourse.

It was Jimmy “The Jet” Turner who made the memorable observation on Saturday that the Aussies were a team of “misfits and oddballs”, brought together on a shoestring by Manenti, who had restarted unlikely players from the Sydney rugby club. and the Fringe Super Rugby. talents.

“I’m so proud of our group, mate,” said Malouf, a Queenslander.

“We did well last year to win the world series and come here and back her up to win the first one in Hong Kong, man, that’s amazing!

“Unbelievable, but I think we’re cutting a few years off our coach’s life by leaving him so late.”

The final was a classic, with Fiji’s incredible Hong Kong record dented thanks to a brace from the superb Henry Hutchison and another strike from Tim Clements, before Lawson’s decisive triumph.

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