AFTER enduring six frustrating years, Australia’s men’s side finally ended their drought and claimed a tour stage on the World Series Sevens circuit after smashing South Africa 29-0 to win the Sydney Sevens on Sunday.
Until then, Australia had lost seven Cup Finals on the bounce since beating Samoa 28-26 in Tokyo way back in April, 2012.
But that heartache finally came to an end late on Sunday evening as they shut-out the defending World Series champions South Africa to win in stunning fashion.
The secret behind their success?
A surprise presentation on the eve of the tournament where the 13 men selected for the Sydney Sevens had their jersey given to them by their families.
“The big turning point was probably the jersey presentation we had on Thursday,” recently retired Australian captain Ed Jenkins told foxsports.com.au.
“Obviously we’ve been trying to involve our families a lot more and it’s a big part of our culture as well.
“I think the jersey presentation was a big turning point for the group.
“It was very special.
“These guys came out to play this weekend and they were pretty clinical in that final and to hold a full-strength South African side to nil is impressive.
“I can’t remember another side doing that (to the Blitzboks) ever.”
Never before had families been so involved in the jersey presentation, which is usually conducted by fellow or past players.
Ahead of their campaign at the Rio Olympics families were invited to write a letter to their children, which was then read out by the player’s roommate.
But this was the first time that the players had their families directly speak to them and then present them with their jerseys.
“It was really special to be a part of and witness,” Jenkins added.
“You thought something special was going to come on that back of that.
Following their 24-12 win over New Zealand in the quarter-final on Sunday, super sub Maurice Longbottom — who scored the game changing try in the second half to put the home side in front — revealed that he was moved to tears when his mother and girlfriend where on hand to present him with his jersey.
“It was a very proud moment,” Longbottom told reporters.
“Mum broke me to tears.
I said ‘I wasn’t going to cry’, but she broke me down to tears.
“It was a good moment.”
LISTEN: Aussie women’s co-captain Shannon Parry joins The Splash — success & Sevens scheduling
Jenkins, who led Australia at the Rio Olympics and is the nation’s most capped sevens player ever, was forced to retire ahead of the Sydney Sevens after being advised that he risked his long-term health if he continued to play.
His retirement brought to an end a decorated career where he won medals at two Commonwealth Games.
As fate played out, Australia would win their first World Series tour leg since beating Samoa in Japan way back in 2012 just two weeks after Jenkins hung up the boots.
The 31-year-old laughed at the irony of the timing.
But Jenkins never doubted that a win was far away.
“I don’t know how many Cup Finals I’ve played in — probably over 10 — and I knew that it was going to fall our way sooner rather than later and it happened to be tonight,” Jenkins said.
“You keep knocking on the door and eventually you’ll win one.
“These guys showed the World Series how to do it and they’re building towards something special and they’ve got a huge year ahead with the Commonwealth Games and a World Cup towards the end.
“It’s the 13 that took part, but if you look around us now and there’s a big extended squad and those guys are pushing the starting players at training every single week and it’s creating that competitive environment that’s needed to be successful.”
Jenkins’ long-time teammate James Stannard said that his presence and legacy would be felt for years to come.
“He’s been with us all week,” Jenkins said.
“He’s a massive loss to this program.
“He’s been one of the most loyal blokes to this program since he started and the boys have got a lot of respect for him.
“He’s not out there but he’s with us anyway.
“He’ll celebrate with us.
“It’s a different stage for him now in life, but he’ll always be part of us going forward.”
Australian coach Andy Friend, who drew upon the experience of Jenkins in particular when first inheriting the role in 2016, said that Jenkins deserved a lot of credit for his role in snapping the drought.
“EJ came over and I gave him a big hug and said ‘well done’,” Friend said.
“He said, ‘nar, I didn’t do anything.’
“I said ‘mate, you did because this has been building. It doesn’t just happen in one night.’
“This has been building now for a long, long time. Since the program went centralised you’ve had Mick O’Connor’s had a big involvement here, you’ve had Geraint John’s had a big involvement, Walshy (Tim Walsh) had an involvement, Scotty (Bowen), I’ve come in now and had an involvement but it’s been building and EJ’s been a big, big part of that.
“He deserves to take a lot of credit for that too.”