For the first time in the sports history, rugby sevens will be part of the Olympic Games this summer. In years gone by, some may have thought sevens was more of social event and not as ‘serious’ as the XV-a-side game, but that theory can now be quashed as sevens heads to Brazil.
Stars such as Jarryd Hayne (Fiji), Quade Cooper (Australia) and Bryan Habana (South Africa) are all not making the trip to Rio de Janerio which indicates that fans, pundits and even us journalists are realising that if these talented players are been left out of their international sides, the quality must be immense in the squads selected.
Former England Captain Ollie Phillips: “What I really want to see is a great tournament and spectacle. Nothing rivals the Olympics so it is great for both the men’s and the women’s game that they get this kind of stage to perform on. It is a game changer.”
The Women’s tournament gets underway on August 6th at the Deodoro Stadium while the Men’s competition begins three days later, but how are the teams shaping up ahead of the their South American adventure?
In the Men’s competition, Fiji are seen as favourites to claim gold in Brazil next month following their second straight HSBC World Series Sevens title in May. Overall, the island nation has never won an Olympic medal, but sevens provides Ben Ryan’s side with an excellent chance to break that duck.
The Southern Hemisphere sides will certainly fancy their chances of a medal this summer. South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina all finished inside the top five in the World Series with Mike Friday’s USA outfit being highest ranked side from the North.
Those sides mentioned above really do ooze talent. USA’s captain Madison Hughes scored an impressive 331 point in this year’s World Series which saw him top the scoring charts ahead of South Africa’s Seabelo Senatla. The stand out name from all 12 teams in the Men’s tournament will be two-time World Cup winner Sonny Bill-Williams. SBW’s sole focus this term was to make the Olympics for New Zealand and after achieving that goal, he will now aim to add a gold medal to his already glowing CV.
And what about Team GB? Well, Simor Amor has only had two months with his squad which he whittled down to 12 players last week. Scotland international Mark Bennett as well as Scarlets’ James Davies, Newcastle’s Marcus Watson and Harlequins’ Ollie Lindsay-Hague are the stand-out names that made the cut, but a medal could be a tough ask for Amor and his side considering that they have had less time to prepare than the other top nations.
Elsewhere, Spain will be looking to write a new chapter in their recent success story this summer. Igancio Inschausti’s men stunned the world when they won the final qualifying tournament for the Olympic Games after a 22-19 victory over Samoa. Can the rise of Spanish rugby continue?
In the Women’s tournament, rivals New Zealand and Australia are strong favourites for a medal in Rio with the All Blacks having captain Sarah Gross, Portia Woodman and Niall Williams (sister of Sonny Bill) at their disposal. The Wallabies’ star could well be skipper Emilee Cheery as she prepares to lead her team to glory in Brazil after the Aussies lost only two games in the World Series this season.
Great Britain are certainly in with a shout of clinching a medal next month. World Cup winners Emily Scarratt, Claire Allen, Heather Fisher, Natasha Hunt, Katy McLean and Danielle Waterman have all been named in Simon Middleton’s squad. The only non-English player in the side is Jasmine Joyce who adds another extra bit of quality to an already impressive outfit.
Another team you may put into the same bracket as New Zealand, Australia and Great Britain is Canada. Ghislaine Landry, who began playing for her country 12 years ago, could be key to any success Canada have in South America after scoring 158 points in the World Series this term.
Once again, it is Spain will be the surprise package in the Women’s competition. They made the Games following a 19-12 win over Russia in the final qualification event for the Olympics and Pablo Tomás García’s squad will certainly be looking to enjoy themselves in Rio next month.
There are three pools of four teams in both the men’s and women’s competitions. The top two qualify for the quarter-finals and will be joined by the two best third-place teams. The gold medal matches will take place on August 8th for the Women and August 11th for the Men.
Group A: Fiji, USA, Argentina, Brazil
Group B: South Africa, Australia, France, Spain
Group C: New Zealand, Great Britain, Kenya, Japan
Group A: Australia, USA, Fiji, Colombia
Group B: New Zealand, France, Spain, Kenya
Group C: Canada, Great Britain, Brazil, Japan