Pool A at this year’s Olympics in Rio sees Women’s Sevens Series winners Australia paired with the USA, Fiji and Colombia.
Whatever happens in Rio, the Australian Women’s Sevens side will always remember 2016 fondly after clinching the country’s first ever Sevens series title. Title victories in the first three events of the 2015/2016 Series paved the way for success, with Australia triumphing in Dubai, São Paolo and Atlanta to open up a significant gap at the top of the leaderboard.
A third-place finish and runners-up spot followed in Langford (Canada) and Clermont, but they remained the outstanding side throughout the competition this season, winning by an impressive 14-point margin.
The triumvirate of Emilee Cherry, Chloe Dalton and Ellia Green contribued a remarkable 331 points between them to Australia’s cause throughout the season, and will be expected to do play another major role in Rio as Australia come into the competition as favourites.
Coach Tim Walsh notably credited his side’s defence after they were crowned series champions earlier this year and the Aussies will be expected to deliver on that front again too.
Player to Watch: Ellia Green
Renowned for her speed, with some hailing her as the fastest woman in world rugby, Green heads to Rio with huge expectations surrounding her potential after scoring 17 tries during the World Series at an average of more than one a game. Green however isn’t all about speed – her power meant she finished the Series with the most clean breaks of any player. Expect plenty of fireworks.
Unknown to many on the World Series circuit, Colombia qualified for Rio in emphatic fashion in 2015 when they won all seven of their matches during the 2015 CONSUR Women’s Sevens Championships held in Santa Fé, Argentina.
Remarkably conceding only 19 points throughout those seven matches, top spot in the round-robin competition confirmed that the South Americans would be travelling to Rio the following year.
It took a last-gasp score from Colombia taliswoman Guadalupe López against Argentina to confirm first place and when speaking to the World Rugby website earlier this year, Federarción Colombiana de Rugby president Andrés Gómez made clear that he hopes the efforts of López and the rest of the squad at the Olympics can help spread the message of the sport to the whole nation back home.
Laurent Palau is the side’s head coach, assisted by Men’s international José Manuel Diosa, as Colombia face off against Australia and Fiji once more after taking boths sides on during the Atlanta leg of the World Series this year.
Player to Watch: Alejandra Betancur
Tasked with leading Las Tucanes into battle in Rio, the Colombia captain has been through the highs and lows with the side in recent years, including their second-placed finish in the 2012 CONSUR Women’s Sevens Championships, and will provide crucial leadership throughout the tournament in Rio.
While the Men’s side travel to Rio as heavy favourites to win Fiji’s first ever medal at an Olympic Games, the pressure is somewhat off the Women’s side, who booked their spot in the competition by comfortably winning the 2015 Oceania Women’s Sevens Championship last November.
Coached by former England international Chris Cracknell, the Fijiana finished the recent World Series in eighth place, with their best result of the season coming in São Paolo when they finished sixth. As a result Fiji are not being widely considered as a title contender, which Cracknell told Radio New Zealand recently could allow them to spring a major shock:
“That pressure I don’t think has been put on the girls because I don’t think people at home have really twigged it – but you know the girls could definitely be the first team to win a medal and that’s the whole reason why we’re going there, and I fully believe that this group of girls have the ability to do that.”
Rusila Nagasau and Luisa Basei Tisolo have key roles to play when it comes to the side’s point-scoring, having finished with 64 and 62 respectively by the end of the World Series.
Player to Watch: Ana Maria Roqica
Hailed for knocking back opponents far bigger than herself, the Fijiana captain also finished the World Series as the top try scorer for Fiji with nine tries, half of her total Sevens career five-pointers. Roqica will play alongside her sister Rusila Nagasau and looks the player to produce a moment of magic when Fiji need it most.
Last up in Pool A are the USA, who secured their spot in this group by winning the 2015 NACRA Women’s Sevens Championships held in North Carolina last June with an impressive 88-0 triumph over Mexico in the final.
The USA head to Rio after finishing in sixth place during last season’s World Series, 14 points behind fifth-placed France, where after a disastrous start in Dubai when they finished in 11th place the side responded to come fourth in São Paolo, their best result of the season.
Off-field coaching changes haven’t helped the USA Women’s side in their preparation for the Olympics, with Richie Walker appointed back in March to replace Jules McCoy who had only taken charge the previous September.
Alev Kelter has a key role to play with her points-scoring off the boot for the side, with the former USA hockey and football athlete also possessing plenty of big-tournament experience.
Player to Watch: Jessica Javelet
Another multi-sport athlete, Javelet finished with seven tries in this year’s World Series but has scored an impressive 28 in 44 matches since making the switch to the sport back in 2014. The San Diego-born wing will therefore be one of the USA’s major try-scoring threats out wide when given an opportunity.