Olympic Men’s Sevens Preview: Pool A

Date published: August 8 2016

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Pool A at this year’s Olympics in Rio sees Men's Sevens Series winners Fiji paired with Argentina, USA and hosts Brazil.

ARGENTINA 

Qualifying for Rio after winning the 2015 CONSUR Men's Sevens Championships, Argentina find themselves drawn in a tough group alongside favourites Fiji and contenders the USA, but will be hoping the addition of some star names can help them spring a surprise when the tournament gets underway on Monday.

Argentina finished in the latest Sevens World Series in a very respectable fifth place, narrowly ahead of Pool A rivals the USA. Their best result of the series came last December in the inaugural Cape Town Sevens, were they finished as runners-up in the Cup competition to the hosts South Africa.

Major disappointments in Canada and Hong Kong during the middle of the season were followed by up a strong finish, making the Cup semi-finals in Singapore and France, before rounding off the season by losing the Plate final to New Zealand at Twickenham. 

Experienced captain Gastón Revol leads the side in Rio coached by Santiago Gomez Cora who will look to the dual threat of Axel Muller and Rodrigo Etchart to provide plenty of tries after the duo scored 48 between them throughout the recent Series, along with the addition of a certain Rugby World Cup star.

Player to Watch: Juan Imhoff 

Imhoff needs no introduction really to those who have either followed Argentina in recent years or watched los Pumas reach the semi-finals of last year's Rugby World Cup in England. The rapid 28-year-old has scored 21 tries in 35 Tests for his country and after a Top 14-title winning season with his club Racing 92 will bring plenty of class to the Argentine side.


BRAZIL

Proud hosts Brazil featured three times in last season's Sevens World Series, turning out in Canada, Paris and London only to be knocked out in all three events at the Shield semi-final stage, losing all five of their matches at each meeting. But don't expect that to knock their confidence infront of home supporters in Rio.

Daniel Sancery was Brazil's top try scorer across those three legs of the Series with four tries to his name and coach Andres Romagnoli will be hoping he can play a prominent role for the side throughout the pool stages.

Brazil came sixth out of eight sides at last year's 2015 Pan American Games, defeating Guyana in the group stages and then Mexico in the fifth-place quarter-finals before losing out on fifth place narrowly to Chile.

All the experience of brothers Lucas and Moisés Duque will be called upon, long-term veterans for Brazil going back to 2005, and whilst they might not be on the same level as some of the leading countries, we don't expect their heads to drop for a second knowing that the whole nation will be watching on.

Player to Watch: Daniel Sancery

Sancery along with his brother Felipe are the second set of brothers in the Brazilian squad along with the Duques, and the 22-year-old admitted to World Rugby that the whole experience in the build-up to the tournament had been beyond his dreams. He said: “We know that something incredible is about to happen, that it will be huge. It won’t be easy at all because we know our level and theirs, but each point earned, each tackle made, each try scored, it will be a victory for us. We represent our country, we are there to play and give it our all.”


FIJI

Back-to-back Sevens World Series champions, Fiji aren't just expected to lift the title, but in the process to also make history by winning Fiji's first-ever medal at an Olympics Games. That's the kind of pressure that no other Sevens will be under in the Men's or Women's competitions, and all the signs over the last two years have pointed towards Fiji triumphing on this stage since Ben Ryan took charge.

Fiji reached an impressive five Cup finals across the ten legs of the 2015/2016 Series, winning three of those in Dubai, Las Vegas and Hong Kong to ultimately finish first in the overall standings by ten points ahead of runners-up South Africa. Those final defeats came against Samoa (who missed out on Olympic qualification to Spain) and Kenya.

Points machines Vatemo Ravouvou and captain Osea Kolinisau, who was Fiji's flag bearer during the opening ceremony at the Maracana, will be expected to rack up more high totals throughout the group stages but the main reason why Fiji are considered as such a major threat is down to the number of lethal finishers throughout their 12-man squad.

Savenaca Rawaca topped the try-scoring charts for Fiji with 35, some way behind the Series leader Seabelo Senatla's 66, but no other team arguably spreads their tries so well throughout their group of players than Fiji, with four players in the top 15. When the threat can come from anywhere, stopping tries from being scored becomes incredibly tough. Anything less than gold for Fiji will be viewed as a failure.

Player to Watch: Osea Kolinisau

Few players in the Fiji side are more experienced that Kolinisau, who has scored over 1000 points during his lengthy Sevens career in the World Series. 20 tries and 56 conversions in 2015/2016 Series meant that he finished with 212 to his name overall. Kolinisau however isn't just renowned for his work on attack – no other player made more tackles in the recent Series than Kolinisau with 128.

USA

The end of the 2014/2015 Sevens World Series at Twickenham marked a momentous first for USA rugby, clinching their first-ever Series leg when they thrashed Australia. That you sense was the first of many titles to come and as the profile of the sport continues to grow in the United States, so the trophies will follow.

Expectations were raised as a result for the latest 2015/2016 series only for the USA to fail to match their achievement from London the previous season, with their best results being third-place finishes in Dubai and London, and that has slightly taken some of the enthusiasm out of the USA's prospects to pick up a medal in Rio.

Only slightly though, because on their day the side have proven over the last few years that they possess the match-winners required to turn a game of Sevens on its head. Phenomenal finishers Perry Baker and Carlin Isles have become global names in the sport already. Nate Ebner, the New England Patriots special teams player, will be watched incredibly closely. Zach Test and Chris Wyles bring enormous experience too.

In a way, what happens in Rio for the USA feels enormous for the sport as a whole, because the exposure of it back home, medal or no medal, may transform the sport forever in the long-term. 

Player to Watch: Madison Hughes

No player in the recent Series scored more points than Madison Hughes (admittedly beating Seabelo Senatla by a point) and the London-born 23-year-old has a vital role to play in Rio. Named captain two years ago despite being the youngest player in the squad, Hughes finished with 331 points last season, scoring 23 tries and 108 conversions. The playmaker in the side who the speedsters need to create their chances.

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