Fijiana Underdogs in Pool A: Olympic Sevens

With less then a day until the opening ceremony of the 2016 Rio Olympics, the excitement is building for the game of Rugby Sevens. The return of rugby to the Holy Grail of sport is finally here and the Women’s Olympic Sevens competition is ready to go. With Fijiana underdogs in Pool A beside the United States and Colombia,  giants Australia are the overwhelming favorites at the Deodoro Stadium.

Fijiana Underdogs in Pool A

It’s a very exciting Pool, with Team USA and Fiji going ‘all out’ to secure a spot in the quarter finals. Only as the top two teams from each of the three pools in Rio qualify directly. The two highest finishing third-placed sides will invariably make up the numbers in the quarter finals. So for the Fiji women, every point counts for and against–points differential could be the difference between seventh place and ninth (outside the finals).

On paper, the Aussies are the top bets but the game of sevens is so unpredictable. Rightly or wrongly, commentators perceive Fijiana underdogs in Pool A but the match can sway in any direction in an instant. If you underestimate your opponents [Fiji or even Colombia] they can ‘bite’. Elements like fitness are key components among teams. Whoever executes and delivers on the day will come out winners. Coach Chris Cracknell needs his side to believe in their own ability.

Fiji have high hopes in Rio

RUGBY-CANADA-WOMENS-SEVENS
New Zealand(black) vs Fiji (white) on the first day of HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series,action in Langford, BC, on April 16, 2016

Fiji will need to dig deep defensively, especially on the second and third phase balls. They have to contain the Aussie forwards for example, if they want to stand a chance. Fiji have tall girls, they have the desire and need to play ‘sharp’ as well as free the ball. Turnovers will be key, against the US and Aussie sides, you take your chances. The battle between these three teams will be worth watching as they go all out.

Self-belief will be the key to the Fijians this weekend, if they get that right, come finals day they will be at the podium. They need to believe that they can deliver as they have what it takes.

“The LOWDOWN”

The three day competition will see teams playing two games each day with the three top finishes walking away with Gold, Silver and Bronze.

Australia are favorites in Pool A no doubt, as they were the Champion team in the 2015/2016 HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series. They have a formidable side to [arguably] walk away with the Gold in Rio. They will battle with North American qualifier United States, Oceania qualifier Fiji (Fijiana) and the South American qualifier Colombia–each side will be providing the first obstacle to the Aussie girls ‘quest for Gold’.

Australia

The Tim Walsh coached Australian side will be led by co-captains Shannon Parry and the exciting Sharni Williams. Each player led their side over the course of that teams maiden Women’s Sevens Series. Highly confident, they have a side that has firepower in all aspects of the game. With speedsters Emma Tonegato and Elia Green, midfield general Emilee Cherry, ace kicker Chloe Dalton and the robust Alicia Quirk to name a few.

Australia, like the Fiji Men’s side, are overwhelming favorites in Rio. They have the arsenal to fire from anywhere in the field. Chloe Dalton provides the x-factor as she is the main key in this Aussie side, with her quick distribution. From her play-maker role, she has good kicking skills and communicates well.

With Williams and Parry leading from the front, with Quirk providing tackled ball turnovers, midfield player Cherry would need to be cut down early if teams want to beat them. She thrives under pressure–stopping Cherry may not be the only challenge though. It also means stopping Green and Tonegato, as they will leave you biting the dust if given space to move.

Charlotte Caslick is another player to watch for. Beside Amy Turner, Gemma Etheridge, Evania Pelite and Nicole Beck each providing the added thrust that makes this team a impeccable unit. It makes it hard to take the side down, as they compliment each other effortlessly. That, and the strong bond that many of the girls have from playing XV’s with each other.

United States

Cancer survivor Jillion Potter will be spearheading the Team USA campaign. Inspirational, the Richie Walker coached side should provide stiff competition to any team in the tournament, especially Australia and Fiji. They can beat any team on their day and they have some exceptional players in Alev Kelter, Richelle Stephens, Bui Baravilala and Victoria Foyalan.

The return of Joanne Fa’avesi provides thrust in the midfield where the battle in Pool A truly lies. While giving Baravilal, Stephens and Foyalan space to move, women like Kelter, Potter, Kelly Griffin and Jessica Javelet lay the foundation. Javelet herself is a specialist, and the US kicking game is a real asset.

Fiji

Head coach Chris Cracknell and Iliesa Tanivula coached Fijiana side are aiming for a podium finish. They have the natural ability to play the game and with fitness now at it’s peak, be wary of the South Sea Island girls.

They will be lead by Ana Maria Roqica with Rebecca Tavo, Rusila Nagasau, Litia Naiqato, Lavenia Tinai and Raijeli Daveua providing the spark to lighten up the Deodoro Stadium.

Fiji’s secret weapon is their debutant Raijeli Daveua. She is ‘unknown’ to the opposition and her work rate and athletism will come in handy against the robust Americans ans Australians. Watch the slick offloads of Nagasau, Naiqato and Tinai. At times this season, Fijiana have left commentators ‘chasing new metaphors’ to describe them.

Another exciting prospect to shine in Rio will be Merewai Cumu. Watch this young, lanky forward on and off the ball, with playmaker Viniana Riwai providing the gaps for Cumu and Tavo to exploit. With wingers in Luisa Tisolo and twinkle toed Tima Ravisa, they have some gas out wide.

Training in Chile with the Men’s team

They wrapped up their one weeks training camp in Chile on Monday. Acclimatizing to the South American weather, they trained with the men and made huge improvements. The side are in Rio now on lock-down until the Opening Ceremony. So close to the opening game against United States on Saturday afternoon, they must hold that growing excitement.

What Last Word On Sport can say about the ‘underdogs’ is that they will not leave wanting. All that is left is to play the game. It is their time to shine and every lover of Fiji Sevens will cheer them on. Go Nuts Fijiana!

Colombia

Alejandra Betancur will lead the charge for Colombia. Representing the continent beside hosts Brazil, they are not here to make up the numbers. As well as the dream of Gold, they want to compete for a spot in next season’s Women’s Sevens Series. They need to finish ninth to qualify for that core status.

”We are involved in a dream pool with the best in the world, and us Colombians love to take on the world’s best, The Olympic Games is the highest accolade a sportsperson can aspire to and we will be there in our own right. We worked and we sweat and we fought to get here and that already makes us successful.”

”Colombia, we will play our hearts out in everything we do” Alejandra Betancur told worldrugby.org.

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Pool A will be taken by Australia but the battle for second will be left until the dust settles in pool play. It is all to play for, so as we say in Sevens ‘expect the unexpected’. If you love the game as LWOS does, watch the Women’s competition and be thrilled as these teams go all out.

Follow all the results and update of the Olympics Sevens here on Last Word On Sports.

“Main photo credit”