Olympic Men’s Sevens Preview: Pool C

Date published: August 8 2016

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Pool C at this year’s Olympics in Rio sees New Zealand, Kenya, Great Britain and Japan pitted against each other.

NEW ZEALAND

The New Zealand Sevens team will be out to rectify a fairly disappointing 2015/2016 season. New Zealand finished third on the overall table behind South Africa and Fiji and remained a consistent third in the overall 2015/2016 statistics, finishing behind the Fijians and Blitzbokke in tries scored as well as points acquired. In the overall defensive stats they finished fourth, but it is quite likely we will see a team of a very different quality take the field in Rio. 

They are placed in a tough pool with Great Britain as well as African giants Kenya. Despite some stiff competition and relatively poor form by their own standards they will still be regarded as favourites to come out of this hotly contested group. 

Esteemed coach Sir Gordon Tietjens has assembled a terrifying group of players especially with the inclusion of XVs athlete Sonny Bill Williams who will provide a unique physicality to their side. Talented brothers Akira and Rieko Ioane are both key names to look out as well after bursting onto the Sevens circuit over the last year.

For so long the dominant force in Sevens rugby, winning four straight Series from 2011-2014, the last couple of seasons have suggested that with the retirement of Timoci Cama and the gradual decline of former skipper DJ Forbes that New Zealand's grip on the format is waning. But the talent available to Tietjens including those previous names along with Gillies Kaka, Tim Mikkelson and Augustine Pulu, is a reminder of how dangerous New Zealand will be in Rio.

Player to Watch: Sonny Bill Williams 

The Rugby World Cup winner has already said that winning the gold at the Olympics would outshine the highest XVs honour. The accomplished code-crosser has an aptitude for victory no matter where he applies himself and the Olympics should be no different. He's already scooped Sevens wins when New Zealand won the Sevens in Wellington and Sydney. His exemplary off-loading, complimented by his enormous size and strength make him an undeniable asset to New Zealand's podium aspirations.  


GREAT BRITAIN

Sticking to a mainly English core, Great Britain travel to Rio after a number of practice tournaments where they fielded two teams, the GB Royals and the GB Lions, before wittling down the squad to the group which has landed in Rio looking to cause a surprise. Simon Amor, the head coach, believes they have what it takes to go all the way:

"We have named a talented and experienced squad of 12 players today which we believe offers the right combinations and complimenting skill sets needed to be successful in Rio. It has however been a 27-player effort and recognition must go to every player involved in the programme, as well as the hard working and exceptional management team."

Scotland's Mark Bennett is one of the more interesting names in the group, having recently excelled in XVs for Scotland and featuring heavily at the 2015 Rugby World Cup. The devolutions of the GB team have not faired well recently in the World Sevens Series. England were the highest ranked team at eighth, with Scotland at 10th with Wales just behind them at 12. 

Seasoned operators in the squad such as James Rodwell, Dan Bibby and captain Tom Mitchell have seen it all before, while there is real out-and-out pace in the shape of Marcus Watson and Ollie Lindsay-Hague. They're an intriguing squad, but can they shake off a disappointing Series performance to clinch a medal?

Player to Watch: Dan Norton

The electrifying pace of Dan Norton makes him a threat to any defending team. The England stalwart has represented his nation for seven years after getting his debut in 2009. His experience, coupled with his immense athleticism and rugby intelligence will make him a foundation for this GB team if he can produce his best form in Rio.


JAPAN

Despite Japan's rugby resurgence, the only Asian representative in the Olympic Sevens are the definite underdogs in this tough group. They appeared in four tournaments in the recent Series, with their best appearance coming in Las Vegas when they lost out in the Plate final to New Zealand.

Japan booked their spot in the Men's Olympics, joining the Women's side, at the expense of Hong Kong when the Brave Blossoms triumphed in the 2015 ARFU Men's Sevens Championships last November. 

The Japan team squad will have two top try-scorers from the previous series in Rio in the shape of Kameli Soejima and Lomano Lemeki, with the former bagging 15 and the latter accomplishing 13 tries across those four tournaments.

Tomohiro Segawa, the head coach, spoke proudly of what his team are capable of achieving after securing qualification earlier this year: “Following the success of our XVs side at the Rugby World Cup, now it's our turn to deliver a message how good Japan rugby is to the world. We will play our Sevens rugby with pride, so that all Japanese who live overseas can be proud of us."

Player to watch: Kameli Soejima

Keep your eye on Kameli Soejima. The 33-year old might in his later years but plays like a 21-year old as he displayed last season by finishing as the top Japanese try scorer for the 2015/2016 season. Soejima has the experience as well as the physicality to be a potent weapon for Japan. 


KENYA

The East Africans will arrive at the games with a wonderful blend of youth and experience, and Kenya will be considered the dark horse of this group as they have recently been fairly average, but have the potential to be world-beaters. They displayed their might when they beat Fiji 30-7 in the final to claim victory in the Singapore Sevens earlier this year. 

Kenya finished in seventh on the overall Sevens table after two poor outings in Paris and London. But Kenyan coach Benjamin Ayimba believes his charges can definitely take the gold.

"I am very confident, bordering arrogance actually… the gold actually, nothing less … for the boys the gold is a target …  that will give us a platform to prepare then for the next Olympics," Ayimba told AFP"Winning that Singapore tournament, has made us realise that we can actually win in the Olympics." 

After a disappointing finish to their season in London, Kenya will be hoping to put that behind them whilst targeting a major scalp when they take on Great Britain to set up the prospect of trying to make the quarter-finals. William Ambaka Ndayara is a name to look out for after scoring 22 tries in the recent Series.

Player to watch: Collins Injera

Injera provides an old head in a fresh and exuberant side. The 29-year-old has been around the block with the Kenyan Sevens team as he has played for the side since 2006. Injera has a knack for finding the whitewash as he ranks fifth on the overall 2015/2016 standings for tries scored. He has also scored the most amount of tries in Sevens history with a remarkable 235 five-pointers. 

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