Aussie sevens 'weirdos' follow the greats

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 Aussie sevens 'weirdos' follow the greats
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When Australia last won the blue riband Hong Kong Sevens in the sport's amateur heyday, rugby aristocrats like David Campese and Michael Lynagh bestrode their ranks.

Thirty-four years later on Sunday, though, the self-proclaimed motley crew who finally emulated their triumph in the green 'n gold at the most celebrated sevens event seemed perfectly happy to be tagged as 'weirdos' and 'misfits'.

It was hard not to smile at their joker Jimmy 'The Jet' Turner's observation during the three-day tournament that this team of Australian champions might be just a bit different - forgotten or overlooked talents picked up like afterthoughts from the fringes of Super and club rugby.

Yet their three victories on Sunday, forged amid injury problems, sin-binnings and seemingly hopeless causes, proved so unlikely that coach John Manenti's side - "Manenti's misfits", naturally - can't be discounted from soaring all the way to the top of the Olympic podium in 2024.

After all, when Nathan Lawson went over for a glorious last-gasp score with 22 seconds remaining to snatch the gold in the final, they beat the reigning double Olympic champs and World Cup winners Fiji, who had previously not lost in Hong Kong for eight years.

After their world series triumph sealed in the US in August, here was further proof that Manenti is putting together a team of not just real skill, but considerable resilience and rare teamwork based on genuine camaraderie.

But even he couldn't quite believe they'd done it.

"It's quite surreal that we're even here. We had to fight, lost against Samoa, fought hard and beat the Kiwis. We looked down and out against the Irish and had to fight against the French," Manenti said.

"All of a sudden we're in the game (after being 12-0 down against Fiji), we've got a minute to go (at 17-15 down) and the boys owned up, it was really special."

Talking of his band of brothers, captain Nick Malouf added: "I'm so proud, we've worked bloody hard for this.

"The thing is we just love each other's company, mate, so when we get out on the training pitch it's easy.

"We love our time off it together too, so it just makes it an absolute pleasure to rip in at training each day and that's why we enjoy moments like this so much."

But he knows that the success will see his team with a target on its back now.

"There's not much between the teams. This is Olympic qualifying year, so everyone's going to be coming in red hot and it's going to make for great viewing and tough games on the pitch," he said.

"And we know they're going to come for us now - so we have got to keep getting better!"


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