Sydney failure puts Tokyo heat on Aussies
TWO years without a tournament win and less than six months to go before the biggest one of all.
The clock is ticking for Australia to mount a serious challenge for Olympic gold in Rugby Sevens at Tokyo.
The saving grace is that the fickle nature of sevens means countries can turn things around as quick as a Fijian sidestep but the real worry is the Aussies are falling further behind when they should be closing the gap.
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The traditional powers - Fiji, New Zealand and South Africa - are all charging full steam ahead towards the Olympic podium - while the United States, Canada, England and France are all getting stronger, leaving the Aussies treading water and in danger of chasing fool's gold.
This was always the doomsday scenario everyone expected the moment rugby was reintroduced to the Olympics and countries that invest money in winning medals would sail past Australia.
This weekend's World Series in Sydney provided a crude lesson in just how quickly the power base has shifted with the women's team finishing third after being belted 34-0 in the semis by a Canadian side that in turn got smashed 33-7 by New Zealand in the final.
"I am gutted," the Australian national women's coach John Manenti said.
"I feel for the girls because I know they are better than that and we let ourselves down and that wasn't the performance we were looking for.
"We were particularly poor around the breakdown, it felt like we got counter rucked every time we had possession. Attitudinally we let ourselves down.
"Our discipline and our lack of intensity at the breakdown really let us down."
As the defending Olympic champions, Australia's women can't be discounted as medal hopes even though they've slipped behind Canada and the Kiwis but what worries Manenti is how they're being outmuscled by their opponents.
"We have to learn. That's a few times now we have got ourselves in crunch matches and let ourselves down with a performance that's not consistent with what we have been doing," he said.
"Everyone is desperate to do well and do well at home, and the reality is once we started chasing the game is that it went from bad to worse. We have to have better composure when we get behind."
It seems a lifetime ago when the Aussie women won the Sydney sevens without conceding a single point in the tournament and the men's team made it a golden double. Neither side has won any tournament for two years and the men look no closer to ending their drought.
They finished third in Hamilton last week to hint that things were turning around but were a flop at Bankwest Stadium, missing the semis after being flogged 43-7 by the Americans then finishing sixth after being whipped 24-7 by New Zealand in the fifth place playoff.
You don't get medals for coming sixth and they are way behind the Rio Olympic champions Fiji - who beat South Africa 12-10 in the final - with coach Tim Walsh conceding his side "barely even fired a shot."
"Everything was going their way and that's when we have to learn to at least stem it, and then pull it back, as opposed being an absolute blowout," Walsh said.
"Individually, the players are making massive inroads. Lachie Anderson is playing really, Josh Turner is going from strength to strength, Lewi Holland I thought had a fantastic tournament to date."