Australia’s cobbled together men’s rugby sevens “misfits” have capped a remarkable transformation to be crowned world champions after clinching bronze in the World Series finale in Los Angeles.
A 21-7 defeat of Samoa on Monday (AEST), built on some terrific defence then clinical finishing, meant they jumped from second on the standings to win the overall crown for the first time since the tournament began in 1999.
Australia finished two points ahead of South Africa (124) with Fiji a further two back after going down 28-21 in the final to New Zealand, who ended their campaign in eighth.
Australia had entered the final leg two points behind the Blitzboks, thanks to one win and five podium finishes in eight tournaments.
South Africa missed the quarter-finals, opening the door for Australia, which closed slightly in a semi-final loss to Fiji earlier on Monday. But powered by Dietrich Roache and veteran Nick Malouf they held their nerve, conceding an early try and then dominating to spark scenes of jubilation.
Manenti, who left the women’s post in a switch with Tim Walsh after last year’s Olympics, took over a program stripped to its bones as part of Rugby Australia’s budget cuts, with only six men handed full-time contracts to begin the season.
He drew players from Sydney club rugby and fringe Super Rugby talents, his mission to have the team taken seriously after years operating in the Olympic champion women’s shadow.
“It is very sweet; I didn’t imagine we’d be in this position so soon,” Manenti told reporters as celebrations kicked off on Monday in California. “The first game I took over we had a 13-all draw with Germany. I dead set thought, what the hell is going on here?
“There’s guys that deserved it but didn’t get opportunities [elsewhere], and they’ve been part of this misfits tag that we’ve sorted of being enjoying.”
Manenti thanked Rugby Australia’s innovative approach to strengthening the program since then and hopes, after next month’s World Cup in Cape Town, they will return home with an enhanced reputation.
“It justifies we’re heading in the right direction … suggests we’re worthy of some small investment to increase our player pool,” he said.
Roache scored and set up tries, while his turnover and Malouf’s late pilfer were enough to stifle Samoa’s advances in the final minutes.
“There is Gatorade all over the [dressing room] roof, the boom box is out of juice and my throat, it’s pretty dusty just from singing,” captain Malouf said, saving special mention for current assistant and long-term player James Stannard.
“It’s the quickest I’ve seen a team bounce [back] from a loss and just move on, taking care of Samoa which I thought we did really well in the end. A year of hard work, we’re so pleased to be able to celebrate it now.”