Australia’s men will be genuine gold medal contenders when rugby sevens makes its Olympic debut in Rio after qualifying on Sunday in emphatic style.
The Thunderbolts lived up to their nickname by blitzing all-comers in the eight-nation Oceania regional qualifier in Auckland to join their female counterparts at the 2016 Rio Games.
Producing a 50-0 exclamation mark in a one-sided final against Tonga, Australia were untroubled in six matches, averaging 49.5 points, to concede just one try over the whole weekend.
The Thunderbolts, ranked fifth in the world, narrowly missed automatic Olympic qualification by failing to finish in the top four on this year’s world series circuit.
With sevens powerhouses New Zealand and Fiji booking spots, 2010 world champions Samoa loomed as Australia’s biggest obstacle to qualifying with an Oceania tournament triumph.
But Tonga produced the shock of the weekend by rolling their arch-rivals 41-5 in the semi-final to prevent the expected final.
The Tongans weren’t allowed to reproduce the same form in the decider as Australia, under the interim guidance of women’s coach Tim Walsh, prevailed with their superior power, pace, class and fitness.
Former volleyballer Pama Fou sparkled from the kickoff to score the opening two tries and set up the third before captain Ed Jenkins crossed out wide for two of his own before halftime.
At 31-0 down, the Tongans were out of the game and Australia went on with the job to cap a weekend of dominance.
Walsh will hand over the reins of the men before the upcoming world series to focus on the Pearls’ Olympic hopes but he believes the Thunderbolts can top the dais in Rio.
“The fashion in which they qualified was awesome,” Walsh told AAP. “To have just one try scored against them the whole tournament showed that.
“They were clinical, professional and ruthless.”
Jenkins praised and thanked Walsh for his “selfless” act in picking up the pieces of the Thunderbolts by becoming caretaker coach following the shock resignation of Welshman Geraint John for personal reasons.
Walsh deflected credit to dual international Mick O’Connor who remains a team adviser after standing down last year following six seasons as coach.
Victorian-raised teenage livewire Henry Hutchison was the find of the tournament in his international debut, while Jesse Parahi impressed in his sevens swansong before switching codes to play with the Wests Tigers.
Australia do have rugby form at the Olympics, winning gold at the 1908 London Games when the 15-man game was played.