Beaten women still champs to Sevens fans
RUGBY SEVENS: The sight of Ellia Green walking off Allianz Stadium 90 minutes after her last game was a sign not all was lost for Australia's disappointed women's team at the Sydney Sevens.
All teams in sevens traditionally do a quick "thank you" walk around the field after their final game but the Australia's Olympic champions' last lap turned into a lengthy trip. Players posed for hundreds of selfies on the fence with young - and old - fans. Several games started and finished behind them, and the selfies continued late into the day outside the ground too.
Having been relegated to fourth spot with losses to Canada and New Zealand, players were gutted but the enthusiasm of their fans provided some temporary respite. It reminded them that their Olympic achievement was still valued.
But the memories of winning gold in Rio also made the fourth-placed finish sting hard for Australia's female stars.
Sydney Sevens was supposed to be their showcase on home soil but instead it ended as a sharp reminder just how hard it is to stay at the top.
"It is a kick in the bum and I think it is a deserved kick in the bum," said co-captain Sharni Williams.
"We didn't perform to the best of our ability."
Tim Walsh's side enjoyed a magic run through 2016. It was built via hard work and self-belief but Australia could do little wrong as they ascended to the world no.1 spot, won the World Series and then made good on their Olympic favouritism.
But the recognition that followed - via huge media attention and public acclaim - added new elements of pressure, expectation and distraction to the equation, and in the new World Series Australia are yet to recapture their old form.
They've finished second and fourth in two tournaments and after an 18-month winning streak over New Zealand, the Kiwis have now beaten them twice post-Rio.
Australia are now facing adversity. Not for the first time but for the first time a while, and the high of Rio must feel like a lifetime ago.
Australia have four tournaments left in the World Series to defend their title and they'll head Las Vegas later in the month. Williams said the Sydney defeat must serve as motivation to hit the training paddock and return to their best.
"It is about being ahead of everybody else," Williams said.
"When you are out there training and (rivals) are training ten times harder than you, you have to ask 'have I given absolutely everything today to better myself?'. That's what we have to do, to keep performing for all those World Series events.
"It is about every individual taking that on board and saying: "yep, I stick my hand up, accountability, I didn't perform to my best and I have to go back and find out what I didn't do and what made that happen."
"Not every day is bright and sparkly. Sometimes you have to take a backward step to go forward and this is our backward step."