Olympic Sevens: Day Four Men’s Competition

Day Four of the 2016 Rio Olympic competition saw all 12 teams begin their quests for Gold. Beginning with a bang, France upsetting Australia, that set-off a treble of unseen losses for other contenders. if anything, Day Four Men’s competition was well worth the wait.

Played at the newly constructed Deodoro Stadium, there were picture-perfect conditions for opening, running rugby. A vocal crowd enjoyed the action with a sunset that was almost an distrasction–if you weren’t fully focused on the pitch that is.

Rugby - Olympics: Day 4
View of the stadium at sunset during Men’s Rugby Sevens on Day 4 of the Rio 2016 Games at Deodoro Stadium on August 9, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Rugby Sevens debuts at the Olympic Games

At this Olympic competition, three Pools involve 12 of the best nations involved in Rugby Sevens. Sides have qualified from their World Rugby rankings, from the HSBC Sevens Series. This made up a proportion the competitors, with the others winning qualifying tournaments. The top 11 sides were then joined by host nation Brazil, to help Rugby return to the Olympic movement after 92 years absence.

Pool B included South Africa, France, Australia and Spain.

In 2015, one of the leading challengers to the Sevens Series Champions was South Africa. The African nation have been great at XV a side rugby, and exceed at the game of Sevens. They demonstrated that today. A combined scoreline of 50 points for, none against, might be seen as ‘close to perfection’.

South Africa make the perfect start

While near to perfect, coach Neil Powell will still see room for improvement. His drilled team appear to hold all the aces, after the opening match against Spain was the boost needed. No upsets here–New Zealand and Australia fell too early, ‘speed bumps in first gear’ maybe–the Blitzboks had none of those. They held 86% of the possession and proved they could profit from that dominance.

Four tries opened their account, with ‘game breakers’ Cecil Afrika and Seabelo Senatla each stretching their legs. The ball did the talking, but they also laid a platform. Kwagga Smith and Werner Kok were powerful, backed up by the talented Kyle Brown. It was a bonus to have all these men together, as over the full Sevens Series, Powell had rested players and tested combinations. Now they could play all their cards, and that is the asset that lead to wins over Spain first, and then France.

Convincing, no doubt about it. And not only are the players impressing on the field, they are also a part of the Olympic movement. That in itself can be an eye opener, and most will say that it is an honour, not a paycheck.

France begin well

The conundrum that is French rugby runs in the Sevens format, just as it does in the XV’s. They are unique and to begin with, displayed aggression and adventure. It was what was needed. By scoring four tries, four conversions, it was a performance ‘out of the playbook’. They may have surprised the Aussie team. French teams can do that, but not often enough. Terry Bouhraoua played exceptionally. Three from three could have been the ‘Man of the match’ performance of the day, but he needed to repeat that effort.

After the opening win, they had the biggest challenge. And they faltered. badly. Only 22% possession, they ended up ‘playing off scraps’ and fell back into bad habits. The African team had a field day, seemingly pushing the European side around. Some called it a demolition–while not entirely so, the powerful Blitzbok just pressed the right pressure points and the French fell off. They should have acted more authoritatively, but failed to hold their ground.

Can France show their character on Day Five?

Do that again on day five, and they probably should begin sightseeing. The points difference might assist them to gain a semi final place, but if they are not confident, it will be a tough hill to climb. And they haven’t shown much backbone in 2015/2016. It is hard to see them; even with Virimi Vakatawa or Steeve Barry at their best.

Australia disappoint fans at home and in Rio

The Australian women were still carrying their Gold medals when the opening Pool B game began. The excitement of the men reflecting the confidence soon wore off, for fans on-hand in the Stadium, as much as fans watching at home. The competition was being played late at night, so Aussie supporters would have ducked under their bed covers as the first match was let slip. Allowing a hatrick for Bouhraoua made for a 0-17 scoreline.

A comeback started with young star Jesse Parahi and standard bearer James Stannard continued to acquire points. Captain Ed Jenkins then put his large foot over the line–fans might have thought ‘now we will see a fightback’ but like they had over the previous 12 months, it ultimately ran-short. Losing 14-31 meant this side; like New Zealand and the United States, needed to win every game from here…and they still have to play the top seed South Africa.

Rugby - Olympics: Day 4
Australia players look dejected as Manoel Dall Igna of France scores their third try during the Men’s Rugby Sevens Pool B match between Australia and France on Day 4 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Deodoro Stadium

After that, even a win over Spain was indecisive. By letting in 12 points, it was not a signal that ‘this team are back’. It was more a pointer to the lack of effective attack by Spain. But in considering the teams members, you still have to respect their chances.

Young stars must stand tall

Henry Hutchinson, John Porch and Tom Cusack and names that fans of Australian rugby will know all have class. But every side here at Rio do, so what is the key that will help the Aussie team beat South Africa? The three powerful men, who might very well wake up on Day Five and believe ‘this is our time’. Every fan of sevens believes they can. Senior men like Cameron Clark will still play a role, just like in the Blitzboks. Phillip Snyman and Rosco Specman could show their experience and deny the Aussie team any chance.

The only injury worry has been Lewis Holland being taken through a hamstring tear. Replaced by Tom Kingston, the fact they still have 12 men is a feather in coach Andy Friend’s bow. A fully fit and able side needs to come out of the blocks early against Africa. They have to get points on the board, something they could not do against France. If Jenkins can lead his men into the second half ahead, might be the key to gaining a quarter final place–from there, it is knock-out rugby.

Day Four Men’s Competition

While Japan may be the toast of the town, Pool B had many of the leading nations who each aimed to secure a place on Day Six (the medal round. With the first match upset, France have given themselves a very good chance, while South Africa did little wrong. Yet to have their line crossed, it will build their confidence. Unbeaten, they are in the best possible position imaginable.

Spain will want to make up for some lost opportunities–the final qualifier has done well to reach this point, so the Jose Ignacio Inchuasti coached team would have wanted to show their true potential.

Day Four results – Pool B

France 31-14 Australia

South Africa 24-0 Spain

Spain 12-26 Australia

South Africa 26-0 France

After years of training and preparation, several teams from Pool B are on the edge of achieving their goals. One more match to demonstrate their abilities and to gain momentum before the medal round. Only eight teams can reach that stage, and any side who ‘trips up’ now, can literally kiss goodbye to four years of participation.

Key match-up: Australia v South Africa

Every side is on-edge. Perform now, and they could finish Day Five with a semi final spot. Australia must resurrect their competition tomorrow–if not, they might be on an early flight home. If they thought Day Four men’s competition was tough, then the Blitzbok are sitting in wait.

It is all on at Deodoro Stadium. Follow Last Word On Sports for all the results and team analysis.


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