Host City: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Venue(s): Deodoro Stadium, Deodoro Olympic Park, Deodoro, Rio de Janeiro
Date Started: August 9, 2016
Date Finished: August 11, 2016
Format: Round-robin pools advance teams to single-elimination tournament of eight teams.
There were no real surprises amongst the qualifiers for the inaugural Olympic rugby sevens tournament until the final qualifying tournament when Samoa, who had recently won one of the World Series events, were upset by Spain. The format used saw 12 teams sorted into three pools of four teams. The top two teams in each pool were joined in the quarter-finals by the two third place teams with the best records.
Group A was the most straightforward with tournament favourites Fiji joined in qualifying for the knockout stages by Argentina who held out to defeat the USA with a late score. Group B saw three teams finish level on 7 points but South Africaâs two blowout wins over France and Spain saw them qualify at the top of the pile with the French in the other automatic qualifying position. Australia went through as best third place team.
All this was overshadowed by the remarkable events that occurred in Group C and, in particular, the game between rank outsiders Japan and New Zealand, who were the reigning world champions. Japan scored early but when the New Zealanders took the lead early in the second half it seemed that normality had been restored. New Zealand, however, missed the conversion after the second try and a triple substitution reinvigorated Japan, with one of the substitutes scoring the equalizing try. The conversion from Japan was successful and they held out for an implausible victory. The New Zealanders, by now suffering from a spate of injuries, were also defeated by Great Britain and qualified for the quarter final only on the narrowest tie-breaker ahead of the USA.
The pattern of results in the group phases decreed that the pairing that seemed the most likely final, New Zealand versus Fiji, was instead to be played as the first of the quarter-finals. The depleted New Zealanders fought bravely but the Fijians ran out winners by 12 to 7. Japan caused another upset by defeating France, South Africa revenged their group stage defeat to Australia and Great Britain also progressed after their game with Argentina remained scoreless until a British try in the fifth minute of sudden death extra time.
The two semi-finals were contrasting affairs. Fiji overcame Japan by 20 to 5 scoring 4 tries with only a solitary Japanese reply but the second semi-final was a great deal closer. South Africa scored an early unconverted try, Great Britain replied but importantly their conversion was good and they held off desperate pressure to win 7-5 and book a place in the final.
The final would then be a clash between Great Britain, the country which had pioneered the sevens version of the sport, and Fiji, who had taken this form of the game more closely to their hearts than any other. All pretence that this was to be an equal struggle disappeared in the early stages when the Fijians cut loose with series after series of powerful running and intricate passing. By halftime the Pacific islanders had 29 unanswered points on the board and were probably already ordering gold polish. The scoring slowed after the break but Fiji ran out comprehensive winners by 43-7. This was Fijiâs first ever Olympic medal after 64 years of competition and was greeted with a public holiday on their home islands.The Japanese fairy-tale, meanwhile, did not have a happy ending as they were crushed in the bronze medal game by South Africa
American [Carlin Isles] took advantage of weaker competition in the consolation bracket to finish as the tournamentâs top try scorer whilst [Terry Bouhraoua] of France scored more points than any other player. While most of the players either took a well-deserved rest after the tournament or returned to fifteen a side competition Americaâs [Nate Ebner] returned to his American football career with the New England Patriots and, within a month, was playing in his teamâs season opening game.
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