The quadrennial sporting extravaganza that is the Olympic Games is nearly upon us, and as a result later this week the eyes of the world turn to Rio. In preparation for the late nights caused by patriotic attention to sports neglected for all bar 16 days every 4 years, The Sportress will look at a few sports of interest and at some Australian medal chances.
Today we look at a sport that we feel ticks both boxes. Rio 2016 sees Rugby return to the Olympics for the first time since Paris in 1924, this time in the more dynamic 7’s format. The USA’s 92 year unchallenged reign as Olympic Rugby Champion will be put on the line when 12 countries go for gold in both men and women formats.
At one time derided for being a home for players unable to secure Super Rugby contracts, its proponents would now argue, with its lucrative World Series and Olympic pathway, that in some ways the 7 man game has almost morphed into a different sport altogether. To find supportive evidence of this, they wouldn’t need to look much further than the unsuccessful attempts of serial code-hopper Jarryd Hayne and Wallabies Quade Cooper and Nick ‘the Honey Badger’ Cummins to secure flights to Rio.
For the uninitiated, Seven’s Rugby is played on the same field, with the same ball, same scoring, rucking and mauling but the similarities end there. The seven a side game has a number of key differences all intended to speed up the contest and create a more dynamic spectacle.
The first major difference is the obvious one, teams are seven a side rather than fifteen. Scrums are contested between 3 players from each team. All games have seven minute halves with two minute half time breaks until the final where the halves are 10 minutes in duration. Conversion attempts are made by drop kick, kick offs are by the team that scored rather than the team that conceded. Drawn matches are decided by 5 minutes sudden death extra time periods until a winner is found.
The Deodoro Stadium, a temporary stadium built around a polo field, will play host to the Olympic Rugby Tournament. Once the Rugby medals are decided it will prove a very multi-purpose venue as it will double as the venue for equestrian events as well as the running and shooting sections of the modern pentathlon.
Rugby’s Olympic return will kick off with the three day women’s competition starting on Day 2 (August 6) and the first medals in 92 years decided on Monday (August 8). The men’s tournament will follow immediately after, on Tuesday (August 9) with the champion crowned on the 11th.
Each tournament consists of 3 groups of 4 teams, the top two from each group qualify for the quarter finals along with the two best 3rd place finishers.
Men’s Tournament Pools (World Rankings in Brackets)
POOL A POOL B POOL C
Fiji (1) South Africa (2) New Zealand (3)
USA (6) Australia (4) Great Britain (8*)
Argentina (5) France (11) Kenya (7)
Brazil (17) Spain (19) Japan (15)
Women’s Tournament Pools (World Rankings in Brackets)
POOL A POOL B POOL C
Australia (1) New Zealand (2) Canada (3)
USA (6) France (5) Great Britain (4*)
Fiji (8) Spain (9) Brazil (10)
Columbia (14) Kenya (13) Japan (11)
Fiji are the overwhelming favourites to win the men’s division, it will be a most welcomed victory too as it would represent the island nation’s first Olympic gold. New Zealand and South Africa challenged the Fijians all the way in the World Series and would give themselves every chance.
The Aussies are a series medal threat, but the dynamic nature of sevens rugby makes this true of all 12 nations. This was plain for all to see with the upset results that saw Kenya win the Singapore Sevens and Samoa the Paris Sevens. Australia could have added their name to this list too in Las Vegas before the calamitous finish you can watch here:
The Aussie women are deserved favourites to claim gold in their division having won 3 of the 5 world series tournaments and finishing beaten finalist and third in the other two. New Zealand will present the stiffest challenge, with Canada and Great Britain both hard to beat on their day.
Both Australian sides have their share of stars here are just a few to keep an eye out for. Lewis Holland had to fend off suggestions of Wallaby stars – Bernard Foley and Quade Cooper – being parachuted into the side to hold his place in the team. His World Series form was enough to do so and he will be directing our team around the Deodoro Stadium
Henry Hutchison set the World Series alight this year, crossing the line 27 times in a debut season recognised with the tournament’s rookie of the year award. If he can find space often enough he could just well carry the team to a medal.
The leadership of captain Ed Jenkins will be vitally important in the Aussie’s quest for gold. He is the most capped Australian player and only one of two Aussies to score 100 or more World Series tries. A strong performance from Jenkins could well see him add to his two Commonwealth Games medals from 2010 and 2014.
The gold medal quest of the world champion women’s team will take place behind the leadership of self-titled ‘Bash Brothers’ and co-captains Sharni Williams and Shannon Parry. The pair lead from the front and are two of the world’s most feared forwards.
If a player is given the moniker ‘fastest woman in rugby’ you know they must be a potent attacking force in sevens rugby. This is the case with Ellia Green, also known as the Green Machine, she is lighting in open field as evident by her 19 tries in 3 tournaments this year.
The 13 hour time difference will make following Rugby, or most other sports a little hard however the business end matches will be played in the morning Australian time.
The quarter finals, which take place on the second days of both competitions will begin approx 5am Australian Eastern Time and will wrap up about 8am.
The final day of each competition will begin at a frightful 1.30am Australian time, but with the finals at about 9am, catching the fight for gold is very achievable.
* Great Britain compete at the Olympics but the separate nations compete in World Series. In Men’s Division England are ranked 8, Scotland 10, Wales 12. In Women’s Division England are ranked 4.