They fell victim to Australia’s trans-Tasman rugby jinx, but the gutted Thunderbolts have vowed “special things” on the road to the Rio Olympics.
Just like their Wallabies counterparts several times in the past decade, Australia’s Sevens team had a cherished victory snatched away by New Zealand in the final of the inaugural Sydney 7s on Sunday night.
Leading 24-17 in the final two minutes at Allianz Stadium, a gutsy Australia were sunk by two tries to rising superstar Rieko Ioane.
It was the second week in a row the All Black Sevens, who stunned South Africa in the Wellington decider, had appeared down for the count in the dying minutes only to prevail.
Ioane finished with a hat-trick in a superb man-of-the-match performance in the 27-24 triumph, but the Aussies were kicking themselves after two late errors at the death.
The most telling was when Wallabies recruit Henry Speight was caught high in contact when the home side had the ball, and a two-point lead, with five seconds left.
The ensuing scrum handed NZ, who also drew their pool match with Australia thanks to a last-gasp try on Saturday night, the chance to steal the match.
“They were gutted after that,” coach Andy Friend said.
“I told them they should be really proud of that performance.
“Two games, 34 minutes against New Zealand and we’re three points behind them, but we’ve got to be better.”
Friend staunchly denied Australia lacked belief against their arch-rivals and stressed the confidence in the team, knocked out in the quarter-finals of the three previous tournaments, had lifted immensely.
“We’ve just got to keep improving,” he said. “I think there’s some special things ahead for this group.”
The runners-up finish – courtesy of knockout upsets over England and South Africa – did see Australia jump from seventh in the world series standings to fourth, but still well behind joint leaders NZ, Fiji and South Africa.
“It’s really important (for Rio),” Friend said. “I said last week ideally we want to be competing for a gold or silver medal in these competitions and to do that you know you can do it in seven months time.”
Kiwi captain Tim Mikkelson also rated the young Australians a team on the rise.
“They’ve also got guys like Quade Cooper who can come in so the future looks bright for them,” he said.
Australia’s heroes over the weekend was five-eighth Lewis Holland and 18-year-old speedster Henry Hutchison, who scored a double at the death to engineer a comeback upset over England.
Sonny Bill Williams started the decider but did NZ no favours early with a high tackle which saw him yellow-carded.
Australia’s painful defeat still didn’t detract from the overall success of the Sydney tournament which reaped a total attendance of 73,313 over the weekend.
Fiji beat South Africa 26-12 in the third-place play-off.