In a fabulous result for European rugby, Spain wins Monaco Sevens Olympic Qualifier after defeating Samoa 22-19 in a thrilling final. Played at the Stade Louis II stadium in Monaco, it was a fairytale ending to a rough journey for the Jose Ignacio Ichauista coached team. The win books the final men’s spot to the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Spain, unlike Samoa, were not a part of the HSBC Sevens Series for 2015/2016. They last played on the ‘World Circuit’ in 2014/2015 and struggled at that time. Only winning a handful of matches, the lessons learned then have proved to be the difference over this weekend. Full credit must go to them for the improvements made. They defied the odds to become part of the pinnacle of sports and beat the fancied Samoan team. With another team securing a place at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, it will boost the sport on the continent to no end.
Samoa, and more so Canada and Russia will be left heartbroken, as they held an advantage of competing at a highest level all season in the Sevens Series. The final hurdle of qualification eluded them, as well as Germany and the other 15 nations at Monaco.
The Spanish team, seemed to take on the same qualities as the Fiji men’s team. With flair and a willingness to move the ball constantly, displayed the kind of rugby synonymous with the island nation. It was a pleasure to watch, and they become the 12th team to register their names for Rio.
Monaco Sevens Day Two: the LOWDOWN
Spain Wins Monaco Sevens
The Spanish scored right from the start through Javier Carrion Llorens. A terrific opening stanza, that five pointer went unconverted by Francisco Hernandez Jimenez for a 5-0 early lead. Hernandez Jimenez soon made up for it in the fifth minute, with a converted try of his own to extend the Spanish lead to 12-0.
The Samoans, known for their strong tackling and aggressive style, soon recovered two quick tries in the space of a number of minutes. Firstly through Alex Samoa in the ninth minute and Ed Fidow in the tenth, both converted by Tila Mealoi. That blitz gave the Samoan’s the lead at the break, 12-14.
The South Sea Islanders picked up from where they left off at halftime, with another try by Belgium Tuatagaloa two minutes into the half. Unconverted, they led 12-19 and looked to have their tales up. That confidence was undone, as Spain refused to buckle and scored through Pol Pla. Within two points, and with the crowd cheering them on; including Prince Albert of Monaco, it had become a riveting match.
Time running out, it was their oldest talisman Ignacio Martin Goenaga who dealt the final blow to Samoan dreams, as he went over for the final try to make the scores 22-19. Huge celebrations followed, as this is (for some) a ‘once in a lifetime opportunity’. “Spain Wins Monaco Sevens” will take the place of football results today in Barcelona.
— World Rugby Sevens (@WorldRugby7s) June 19, 2016
To the winner go the spoils, as hearts went out in solace to Samoa, who had competed so gallantly.
Once in a lifetime opportunity
The Pablo Feijoo led side played well as they took the game right to the Samoans, they isolated Falemiga Selesele as this reporter had identified. In fact, they threw everything they had at Tila Mealoi especially in the second half. They piled on the pressure with an aggressiveness at the breakdown; not seen at Sevens Series level, paying dividends bigtime.
“I am still trying to take it in,” said Angel Lopez. “This is a dream for us. We are going to be Olympians. We believed that we are good enough, but wow, this is pretty special.”
Russia takes third spot, Canada settle for fifth
The Bears overcame a determined German side 22-12 to take third spot, against a team who continue to impress. Germany and Ireland too, were the surprises of the tournament. The Irish narrowly lost to the eventual winners in the quarterfinals. Germany lost their semi-final to the Samoans, after overcoming Chile in the quarters and played some wonderful rugby over the two days.
The Canadians ended their disappointing campaign, taking fifth spot over Hong Kong 24-17. The Canadians were were bundled out by the Russians in the Cup quarters. They will need to re-look at their structures. Canada can take heart from the strong performance in Vancouver. They will look to build a team in 2016/2017 who can aim to qualify for Tokyo 2020.
— RugbyCanada (@RugbyCanada) June 19, 2016
In other positional play-offs, Zimbabwe took the Challenge Trophy. They defeated the disappointing Tongans 31-5. South Korea took 13th spot beating Sri Lanka 31-24 (and important World ranking places).
World Rugby congratulates all teams
World Rugby Chairman Bernard Lapasset said: “Congratulations to Spain on qualification for Rio 2016 and completing the line-up of 12 men’s teams who will represent rugby on sport’s biggest and most famous stage.
“All the teams showed the very best of our sport and its character-building values at the Monaco Sevens and rugby has certainly been the winner throughout a truly compelling final qualifier weekend. We can now look forward to the women’s final qualifier in Dublin next weekend and a game-changing Rio 2016 Olympic Games. That [event] will enable rugby to reach and inspire new audiences worldwide.” he told worldrugby.org.
In other Rio build-up News
Australia have lost Henry Speight and Pama Fou to injury. Fiji has lost Isake Katonibau due to coach Ben Ryan stating his ‘chronic illness’ means he cannot compete for a squad position. The New Zealand (NZL) sides are in deep preparations while the Fijiana side have been enjoying two good build-up matches with the Samoan and NZ sides, as they continue their quest for Rio.
‘Road To Rio’ Near to Completion
With the conclusion of the Monaco Sevens it has brought us to the final qualifying tournament for the women, to select the team that will compete at the pinnacle of sports. With the final spot for the women yet to be determined, Dublin will now host the final Olympic repechage event. Scheduled from the 25th-26th of June, with Spain again as hot favourites to mirror the men.
The Spanish men will take time to celebrate–a large fiesta no doubt. They then plan to join the likes of HSBC Sevens Series champions Fiji, Commonwealth Games champ South Africa, Asian Games champs Japan, Singapore Sevens Cup winners Kenya, NZL, USA, Argentina, Australia, France, Great Britain and hosts Brazil, to compete alongside the women’s competition (tbc) at Rio in August.
The sevens action will continue in Dublin next weekend. Follow all ‘the lowdown’ of the Dublin Sevens event here with Last Word On Sports.
- banner image courtesy of World Rugby website.