While the optimistic Super 14 hype is being
turned on ahead of the season kick off next weekend, Australia’s losing way
continued over the past three days in the rugby sevens derivative as we were
defeated by England, Fiji and even Argentina.

But don’t expect to see that highlighted or
even mentioned in most of the rugby press: Who wants to be the unpatriotic
killjoy to tell Melbourne that Australia will just be making up the numbers in the only thing really worth
watching at the Commonwealth Games – the
rugby sevens?

The weekend’s losses were at the Wellington
Sevens where the ARU again shows that it just doesn’t take the sevens brand
seriously. Coach Glen Ella does what he can with players who can’t get a start
in any Super 14 squad then, once every four years, we’re suddenly expected to
be competitive when a Commonwealth Games medal is at stake. It doesn’t work.

For what it was worth, sevens masters Fiji pipped
New Zealand in the semi-final and then defeated South Africa 27-22 in extra time.

Australia, just making up the tournament numbers, suffered the indignity of
losing to England 19-7 in their pool games, then fell 21-14 to Fiji in
the Cup quarter final before failing 21-17 against Argentina
in the consolation plate semi-final.

The IRB Sevens series moves on to Los Angeles this
weekend as the last hit-out before the Commonwealth Games. Just for the Melbourne show, each
local Super 14 team has to make a player available for Ella to suddenly make
fit into his squad. It doesn’t work.

Sevens is a very different animal from the
15-a-side game. New
Zealand has used its
sevens team as a pathway for future All Blacks. Fiji,
deprived of other competition, specialises in the game. Samoa is making strides in the
same direction. South
Africa, like New Zealand, somehow has the player depth to have a presence in the quicker game. Australia
goes along for the ride.

Don’t put any money on the men in gold come
17 March.

PS The first weekend of serious rugby
included what is likely to be the year’s biggest upset – Scotland beating France
20-16 at Murrayfield. After England thrashed Wales on Saturday night, it looked like the 2006 Six Nations championship
would be a two-horse race, but now it looks like only one nag is really
running.

However, France is
unlikely to play that badly again and meet England
in Paris. The home ground makes a ten-point difference to the French, so
don’t write them off yet.

Peter Fray

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