Completing our set of Women’s Sevens previews, Pool C sees hosts Brazil go up against Canada, Great Britain and Japan.
It’s important to remember that while Brazil qualified for the Women’s Sevens by vitrue of being hosts, they have in fact featured in the last two Rugby World Cup Sevens in Dubai and Moscow. The 2009 tournament in Dubai saw Brazil finish as runners-up in the Bowl competition, losing out narrowly 10-7 to China, but they were unable to match that four years later when, despite defeating Fiji in the group stages, they went on to be knocked out in the Bowl quarter-finals.
Brazil have also been regulars on the Women’s Sevens Series in recent years, with their best finish coming in 2013/14 when they came tenth overall thanks to making it into the Plate competition in Dubai and Amsterdam. More recently they featured in the Dubai, São Paolo and Canada legs of the 2015/16 Series, finishing as runners-up in the Bowl on two occasions.
Raquel Kochhann, 23, was Brazil’s top try scorer across their Series events this season with five but it will be the experienced trio of Paulinha Ishibashi, Beatriz “Baby” Futuro and Júlia Sardá who Brazil will look to for inspiration as they try and thrive off a passionate home crowd to make it into the knockout stages.
New Zealand coach Chris Neill is the man charged with trying to make that happen, having already guided the side to a gold medal in the South American Games two years ago in Chile.
Player to Watch: Beatriz Futuro Mühlbauer
The Brazilian star might be known as “Baby” – being the youngest member of a big family – but now 30 she offers the side plenty of experience. Playing in her home city of Rio de Janiero, Mühlbauer will be a key attacking threat for Brazil and has scored 12 tries in 35 Series matches for Brazil in her career.
Aside from Australia, perhaps no country will head to Brazil with more confidence than Canada following their win in the final leg of the 2015/16 Series in Clermont back at the end of May. That success, defeating Series winners Australia in the final, was enough for Canada to finish third in the overall classification, capping off an impressive campaign in which Canada were also runners-up in São Paolo.
Canada automatically booked their ticket to Rio by finishing in the top four of the 2014/15 Series, when they came second, and off the back of that they come into the Olympics as major favourites to clinch Pool C, coached by John Tait.
A large reason for that is the points-scoring of Ghislaine Landry, who topped the scoring charts in the latest Series by some way with 158 points, at an average of 6.87 per game. That tally included 30 conversions and a penalty, but crucially 19 tries, the third most by any player behind New Zealand’s Portia Woodman and Australia’s Emilee Cherry.
And Landry believes many will be surprised by the standard of the competition in Rio, as she told World Rugby earlier this month: “For those who haven’t seen women’s sevens before, I think they will be pleasantly surprised with the quality of rugby in the women’s game. As a collective it’s incredible how far teams have come in the last few years. The speed, the tackling and the quality and style of attack are better than they’ve ever been.”
Player to Watch: Karen Paquin
With a higher ratio of more than a try every two games for Canada, it’s safe to say Karen Paquin knows how to finish. Paquin has racked up 53 tries in 100 Series matches for Canada throughout her career, including 14 in the 2015/16 series. Remarkably, she hasn’t missed a tournament since the Series began back in 2012/13.
England’s fourth place in the 2014/15 Series meant that Team GB qualifed for Rio but it was a close-run thing, with their dramatic 15-14 win over the USA in the third-fourth place play-off in Amsterdam, pushing the Americans out of the precious top four spots into fifth. They didn’t do it the easy way, but where’s the fun in that?
Head coach Simon Middleton hasn’t had to deal with the disruption of blending together players from multiple countries either given that 13 out of the 14 players who have travelled to Brazil, including the two reserves, all play for England. The exception is Jasmine Joyce, the Wales flyer who at just 20 is one of the youngest players in the GB squad.
One positive for the GB group however is the presence of several Women’s Rugby World Cup winners from 2014, with Katy McLean, Emily Scarratt, Danielle Watermann and more all on the plane to Rio.
Great Britain face a potentially tricky start against Brazil and how they handle the occasion and adrenaline from the hosts will provide a good indication of what to expect from the group throughout the pool stages and perhaps beyond. Their meeting with Canada already looks like the pick of the group stages matches.
Player to Watch: Heather Fisher
Sevens isn’t all about speed, as Fisher has shown with her exceptional power throughout her time as a Sevens player for England, and now in the coming weeks for Great Britain. Another World Cup winner from 2014, Fisher’s can give GB the extra edge they need in tight games with her line breaks and ability to win turnovers at the breakdown.
Rounding out Pool C are 2015 ARFU Women’s Sevens Championships winners Japan, who saw off Kazakhstan, China and Hong Kong to take the sole automatic qualifying spot over the two legs in Hong Kong and Tokyo.
The highlight for Keiko Asami’s side in the recent Series was lifting the Bowl in the first tournament back in Dubai, but back-to-back 12th-placed finishes in Canada and France mean that the ‘Sakura Sevens’ are limping into the Olympics rather than arriving full of confidence. That puts the pressure on captain Chiharu Nakamura to stir the troops and there’s no doubting her determination and belief in her squad.
When discussing Japan’s shock win over South Africa at the Men’s Rugby World Cup last year, she gave an interesting response to the Japan Times: “We wanted to be the one that would surprise [the world] first.”
Getting out of Pool C in Rio would certainly do just that. Nakamura has a major role to play if that’s to transpire as Japan’s top points scorer in the Sevens Series with 64.
Player to Watch: Ano Kuwai
The 26-year-old was Japan’s top try scorer in this year’s Series with nine scores and especially impressed during Japan’s last run-out in Clermont back in May. Kuwai was previously a discus thrower at national high school level in Japan and having failed to reach the Olympics in that sport now finds herself to the Games through Sevens.