HEARTBREAK. Australia’s rugby sevens girls were in tears after being upset and ousted from the Olympics by the magic of the Fijians.
It was tight, there were chances, there was drama, there was a rally from 14-0 down but ultimately the scoreboard read 14-12 and it was the end in Tokyo.
Charlotte Caslick did everything possible to turn it into a cliffhanger when she ran in a try from halfway with 45 seconds to play on a switch pass from Madison Ashby.
The Aussies took the kick-off with 14 seconds left but never got their hands on the ball to create another chance.
The shock hit immediately. The golden girls of the 2016 Rio Olympics were out in the quarter-finals.
Demi Hayes was in tears. Inconsolable. Teenager Maddison Levi shed them as well.
Caslick turned comforter with arms around a shattered Ashby who was weeping. It was a poignant moment of team support because the hurt was deep indeed.
“It was really hard. Probably one of the hardest games of sevens I’ve ever played,” Caslick told media after the match.
“Credit to the Fijian girls for coming out as hard as they did. They were really awesome. I guess we shifted the momentum but we just didn’t have enough time.
“Once you have momentum in sevens it’s really, really hard to change it. There was space there but we probably played to their game not ours.”
Rio gold medallist Caslick tried to compare the elation of 2016 with the despair of Tokyo when asked.
“When I ran out and I was in the tunnel I can’t even remember what I felt like in Rio. I know I’m %$*& going to remember this. That sucks," Caslick said.
“It’s completely different. We are at the other end of the spectrum.”
Caslick tipped the New Zealanders, with their control, to take the gold medal but wished bigger things too for the Fijian girls.
Hayes was superb on Day Two, both in the 14-12 pool loss to the USA and against Fijiana.
She made a try-saving tackle from behind in the second half and was one of Australia’s best at the tournament.
Ditto Ashby. She was excellent with game sense to back up her stout defence and ball play. She’ll be an anchor player for the 2024 Paris Olympics.
Fijiana scooted to a 14-0 lead early to apply the pressure. The islanders had flashes of good attack but it was really their physical presence at the tackle or force breakdown penalties that put a stutter in the Aussies’ up-tempo style.
The game delay of 30 minutes after a lightning warning might not have helped.
“I guess when it’s not even raining it kind of sucks. Those young girls were probably sitting in there as anxious messes but they’ll learn from it and be a lot better for it,” Caslick said.
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Australia’s big chance came when Fijiana were reduced to six players before half-time because of a high tackle yellow card.
Immediately, a huge tackle got them the ball back when Caslick was clattered as she wound up a pass. How a pass could be judged a knock on was a mystery but it was balanced by a blatant Australian forward pass going unwhistled.
The Australians finally got their strike-back try on half-time when Faith Nathan ran one in on the overlap. Her desperate defence was a feature all day.
The Aussies had to suffocate the Fijiana girls by controlling the ball and only did so for bursts in the second half.
An unforced knock-on by Levi late in the game was unfortunate.
The Olympic tournament has highlighted how young the Australian side are compared to more mature teams. They are probably missing a physical enforcer and re-starts were rudimentary in the bigger games without kicking polish.
The Aussies have skills aplenty but it will be a new breed in Paris with co-captain Sharni Williams, after a fine tournament, certain to pass the baton at 33.