Rugby

Caslick, Levi inspire sevens team to seal Olympic Games qualification

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Australia’s world champion women’s rugby sevens team have qualified for next year’s Olympics in a bright opening to an historic edition of the Hong Kong Sevens.

As the sport’s marquee annual event featured a women’s tournament for the first time in its 47-year history, the Charlotte Caslick-inspired World Cup winners opened up with group victories over Brazil and Ireland on Friday.

It was enough to seal their place in Saturday’s quarter-finals, which guaranteed their automatic qualification for Paris 2024, where they will hope to regain the crown they won in Rio 2016 and make up for their disappointing quarter-final exit in the last Olympics in Tokyo.

Tim Walsh’s side join New Zealand, USA and hosts France as the first teams to book their place at the Games, and will now look to celebrate by going on to win the inaugural Hong Kong event.

World sevens player of the year Caslick was in inspired mood as she scored three tries in Friday’s two games, going over for a double in a 43-5 crushing of Brazil before also scoring another in a much more hard-fought 19-12 win over Ireland.

The Irish were pressing for a late equalising try when Australia’s scrum trio won one against the head with a powerful shove, and Caslick booted the resultant penalty joyfully into the crowd with the Olympic place guaranteed.  

Maddison Levi was also in familiar prolific try-scoring mode, grabbing a brace in the Brazil match that takes her to 46 in this season’s World Series matches, a record for an Australian player and just six behind the women’s record set by New Zealand’s Portia Woodman with 52 in 2014-15.  

Levi’s younger sister, teenager Teagan Levi also got in on the act, scoring a try in each game and kicking five conversions in total.  

In the men’s event, John Manenti’s Australian side, the reigning champions, also made a fine start in their bid to create a piece of rugby history by winning two Hong Kong Sevens titles in the same season.

They’ve been given the chance because of a calendar change that means the 2023 event is back in its usual springtime spot after being staged in November last year for the first time since 2019.

In their sole game of the day, the Australians outplayed Japan 26-5, with two tries from Matthew Gonzalez and other scores from Maurice Longbottom and Dietrich Roache.

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