Olympic Sevens: Deserving Men Charge On

The men’s semi finals are set at the Rio Olympic Sevens competition, with Japan and Great Britain going through from Pool C.

In two amazing matches, both sides were forced to fight till the very end to keep their Gold Medal hopes alive. Great Britain beat Argentina in golden point, while Japan scored in the dying seconds of regular time to snatch victory from France. Pre-tournament favourites New Zealand have been eliminated from any chance of winning a medal, losing two must-win games that will see them play-off for [no higher than] fifth place.

One has to ask the question, just how good has Japan’s success in Rio been for the game of rugby?

Japan Continue To Make Rugby History

In a thriller, the ‘darling of World Rugby’ secured their place in the semi-finals after beating France 12-7. Teruya Goto, the man who scored in the historic upset over New Zealand, repeated the dose against France. Goto dotted down under the sticks to break French hearts after taking the ball from the breakdown.

It continues a fine tournament for the Japanese; and like they did in the 2015 Rugby World Cup, they have again shocked the world. Having to work much harder against the French, the test will serve Japan well as they move forward. In total, the Japanese have lost just one game so far in Rio–that coming to the yet undefeated Great Britain.

Lomano Lemeki said that their coach believed a new era in Japanese rugby had been written during the tournament;

Our coach was in tears, he said we are creating history and a legacy for the next generation. Somehow we just keep rolling on and we will have to keep riding that through, no one expected us to even make a quarter final.

If Japan can beat a powerhouse like New Zealand, and follow that up with a strong closeout win in a quarter final, then they can more than beat Fiji in the semi finals.

New Zealand’s Gold Medal Hopes Come To An End

A tournament, with more lows than highs, came to an end for New Zealand in the quarter-final against Fiji. There will be fallout from this result (no doubt) but for the time being, New Zealand (NZ) are out of Gold Medal contention. That is the huge sports headline, no matter the region.

After Fiji opened the scoring, Rieko Ioane was ordered from the field within the first 10 minutes. A dangerous tackle earning him time in the sin bin. Being down a man didn’t harm the kiwis fortunately, as a brilliant chip kick from Gillies Kaka set up the try that saw his team go to the halftime break with a 7-5 lead.

The elusive step and blistering pace of Jerry Tuwai put Fiji back into the lead. A massive player, his ability to ‘peak at the right time’ is something NZ are desperately lacking. Fiji held the ball for several minutes after that score, denying their opposition a last chance at glory. It proved to be enough for the victory.

New Zealand’s tournament was over, but Fiji were deserving 12-7 winners.

Curry Injured Forcing New Zealand to Play with Ten Men

Usual New Zealand captain Scott Curry missed all action on the second day, after suffering a leg injury. That only added to the pain of losing Sonny Bill Williams and Joe Webber.

Earlier in the day, New Zealand were unable to get past Great Britain. This was despite a valiant comeback from a 21-0 deficit. Looking woeful on defence in the first half, the Brits ran in three tries to shoot out to the ultimately insurmountable lead.

Mark Bennett, a regular in 15’s rugby, scored the first try for Great Britain. James Davies and Dan Norton were the other try scorers. Remember that Great Britain are made-up three nations. The side itself has only been together for around seven weeks prior to Rio. It makes their performance that more impressive.

Kaka made of a crucial kick-off error late in the game. The usually-stable kicker sent the ball far too deep into Team GB’s half. The mistake cancelled out any chance NZ had of retaining the ball. Kaka also could have drawn NZ level, but missed one of three conversions. That fact cost the Kiwi’s against Japan too, and crucial misses have cost this team dearly.

Great Britain Advances In Golden Point ‘Thriller’

In a script that not even the most adventurous rugby fans could write, Great Britain’s quarter-final was full of shocks. During a scoreless clash, yellow cards were handed out to both sides. Argentina couldn’t convert on a penalty attempt with time-up on the clock. Massively disappointed, the quarter-final went to golden point. In this case, five-minute ‘halves’ would be played until one of the teams scores a try–the scorer of that try is then considered the winner of the game

Such a tight match isn’t without its controversy. At one time, Great Britain were furious when Argentina kicked the ball over the touchline on the full. However, the line out wasn’t taken from where the kick was made on the field, which had players confronting the match officials. The rewards had made every inch crucial to the outcome.

With both teams restored to seven players, Tom Mitchell struck the upright. Scrambling for the ball, Argentina knocked it on and gave the Brits excellent field position. Through good attack, Dan Bibby found his way to the try line. Not only did Bibby win the match (see main picture) but the Sevens superstar sealed a place in the semi-finals for Great Britain in the golden point thriller!

Kenya Still Seek Elusive Victory In Rio

Kenya will be bitterly disappointed with their performance in Rio. Conceding more than 30-points on two occasions, they looked far from the side that took out the Singapore Sevens. A team that many believed could be the giant-killers of Sevens, Kenya lost all three of their matches in pool play. In total, the Kenyans scored just 19 points throughout pool play.

Disappointed with their performance, many in the side will feel that they didn’t just miss out on a medal in Rio, but that there is still a lot of improvement needed to compete at the international level. Even with the seniority of Collins Injera, new players have not reached his skill level.

To ‘rub salt in the wound’ Kenya went on to lose 14-12 to Spain in the minor lacing playoff. Outside of the top nine finishes at Rio will implicate on their form heading into the 2016/2017 HSBC Sevens Series, so there is much to work on.

Results Day Five – Pool C:  Japan 31 – 7 Kenya | Great Britain 21 – 19 New Zealand

Quarter finals:  Fiji 12 – 7 New Zealand | Japan 12 – 7 France | Great Britain 5 – 0 Argentina | RSA 22 – 5 Australia

Minor placings:  Spain 14 – 12 Kenya | USA 24 – 12 Brazil


Semi finals on Day Six at Deodoro Stadium

The semi finals will see plenty of colour and excitement from fans of all the top four nations. Great Britain should have good support, as will Japan. Expect a huge challenge from South Africa, so Team GB must go up yet another notch. Star forward James Rodwell was delighted with the team effort.

The heart, the effort the boys showed, that was a real tight game. I think everyone can see that is why it should be an Olympic sport. We’ll get a good night’s sleep tonight and it’s a real big day tomorrow for us. We’ve been playing our hearts out for each other and hopefully the people at home can see that out on the pitch.

Japan will play Fiji in the first semi, before Great Britain meet the South African Blitzboks to then determine the finalist of the 2016 Olympic Sevens competition.

Good luck to all sides.

“Main photo credit”