Australia and Tonga have become the latest nations to qualify for Rugby World Cup Sevens 2013 in Moscow after safely negotiating the Oceania regional qualifier in Sydney this weekend. They will join the region’s automatic qualifiers New Zealand, Fiji and Samoa in Russia from 28-30 June next year.
The Australians delighted the home crowd by beating defending champions Samoa 12-7 in the Oceania Sevens final at North Sydney Oval on Sunday, while Tonga finished third after a tight battle with the Cook Islands.
It was a tense, physical final that went right down to the last seconds. Samoa scored first through a converted Robert Lilomaiava try after an attack that started in their own half, but Australia struck back through the tournament’s top try scorer Pama Fou to make it 7-5 after a break by captain Ed Jenkins.
With tensions mounting Samoa’s Talaga Alofipo received a yellow card early in the second half for a high tackle and while Australia pressed they could not take advantage in his absence. Then, with Samoa back to full strength Allan Faalavaau broke from his own half to score under the posts to make it 12-7 to the home team.
Further pressure then saw Australia lose possession near the Samoa line and the champions headed down field with pace and numbers. It looked as though Falenui Iosi was set to score the winning try but a last ditch tackle by Will Miller cut the Samoan down and Australia hung on to win.
Jenkins was delighted with the victory. “The first objective was to beat Tonga in the semi final and qualify for next year’s World Cup Sevens. The win over Samoa to win the Oceania title is the icing on the cake. It was incredibly close but playing Samoa is always hard and it could have gone either way.
“It was great to be playing at home and it was good preparation for the Gold Coast Sevens that is coming up in October. Like Samoa we had some debutants today and they have now got some excellent experience of top level Sevens under their belt.”
Samoa coach Faamaoni Lalomilo said: “I am really proud of my boys. We left our senior players at home as we had already qualified for the World Cup Sevens next year. I wanted to see how the young players went against some of the top teams in Sevens such as Australia and they showed they have what it takes.
“It was a trial of sorts for them. We have the HSBC Sevens World Series coming up plus the World Cup next year and we wanted to build depth in the squad. A lot of young players put their hands up today which is just what we wanted.”
There was also all to play for in the third place play-off with Oceania’s other Rugby World Cup Sevens place up for grabs. Cook Islands and Tonga played out an intense first half with both sides having their chances before the Cooks broke the deficit through Justin Marsters and then Sailosi Nagi to give them a 10-0 half time lead.
Tonga, however, replied in the first minute of the second half with a converted try and then added another from Sonatane Takulua to give them a 14-10 lead. The momentum was now with Tonga and when Siosiua Ma’afu scored it looked all over at 19-10. However, Tiakina Manga scored and converted for the Cooks to make it to make it 19-17 to set up a tense last minute.
Tonga captain Sione Vaiomounga said: “We were bad on the first day. We were not prepared to do the work. We took too much for granted but the boys dug deep and we earned a spot at the Rugby World Cup Sevens which is what we wanted. The key was less mistakes and more physicality at the tackle.”
Cook Islands coach Ramsey Tomokino said: “We had our opportunities, many of them, but just couldn’t convert the pressure which is disappointing. We also had to play without our captain Koiahu who suffered concussion in the semi-final against Samoa. Top level Sevens is all about taking chances and we didn’t.”
Men's qualifying process for RWC Sevens 2013:
Men (24 teams)
Europe – three automatic places (Wales, England and host Russia) plus Portugal, Spain, France, Georgia, Scotland qualified
North America/Caribbean – USA and Canada
Oceania – three automatic places (New Zealand, Samoa and Fiji) plus Australia and Tonga qualified
Africa – two automatic places (South Africa and Kenya) plus two qualifiers
Asia – three qualifiers
South America – one automatic place (Argentina) plus one qualifier
RWC Sevens 2013 qualifying calendar
June 30-July 1, Moscow, Russia (women)
July 20-21, Albufeira, Portugal (men)
August 3-4, Lautoka, Fiji (women)
August 25-26, Sydney, Australia (men)
August 25-26, Ottawa, Canada (men and women)
September 28-30, Marrakech, Morocco (men)
September 29-30, Casablanca, Morocco (women)
October 6-7, Pune, India (women)
November 2-3, Singapore (men)
February 23-24, Rio de Janeiro (men and women)