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Saturday, 6 August 2016

#BetweenTheRings: Rugby Sevens Preview
Welcome back to the Olympiad Rugby!


1924!  The 1924 Summer Olympics was the last time rugby made an appearance in the Olympics.  Fast forward 92 years and Rio 2016 welcomes back the physical sport with open arms.  Now of course back in 1924 it was a bit different of a sport than what it is today.  In Rio, the discipline fans will see on the pitch will be rugby sevens.  As the name states, this event will be a seven-a-side match up.

The quick #RioRewind on the sport of rugby:

  • Rugby sevens has been confirmed as an Olympic sport in 2016 and 2020.  The sport has not been approved for continued playing past 2020.
  • The original sport of rugby played in the Olympics was a 15-a-side version, much different than the seven-a-side discipline we will see in Rio.
  • At the conclusion of the 1924 gold medal final, there was a pitch invasion by fans mainly attacking the gold medal winning USA.  The French, silver medalists, and police held off the fans and helped protect USA from being attacked.  This pitch invasion was the main decider in why the sport was dropped from the Olympics, including the lack of growth and inclusion of women.
  • The USA won the last two rugby gold medals in 1920 and 1924, defeating France both times.  France also won the inaugural gold medal in 1900.
  • 2016 will be the first time women will compete in rugby at the Olympics.
  • The rugby sevens competition for both men and women will take place over 3 days per gender.  This is a quick event with teams playing 2 games per day.
  • Qualification began with the 2014-15 Sevens World Series (men) and World Rugby Women's Sevens Series (women).  The top 4 overall nations earned direct qualification.  6 additional spots were earned at continental championship events.  The final spot was earned at a last-chance final Olympic qualification tournament near the end of June.

As women will be making their Olympic debut, let's start the rugby sevens preview with the women's competition....plus they do play first.

WOMEN


Pool A

Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi, Oi, Oi!  Pool A will feature the #1 ranked Team Australia and the overwhelming favourite to take home the gold in Rio.  The Aussies have been one of the strongest and most consistent teams in rugby sevens for many years.  However, they are beatable as shown with their 3rd place finish in the 2014-15 World Rugby Women's Sevens Series, finishing behind Champions New Zealand and Canada.  Being provided the #1 seed though does give them the easier pool and easier path to the SF.

The USA and Fiji will look to be the strongest contenders to make the knockout stage.  The USA just missed automatic qualification from the World Sevens Series, finishing tied with England for 4th but lost the tiebreaker procedure.  The USA did win the NACRA Championship, defeating Mexico in the final, to earn their Rio spot and will be a favourite to advance as the 6th seed.  Fiji took an even longer road to get here.  When the World Seven Series was about to begin, Fiji had to win a qualification tournament just to make the top 11 series.  Once qualified, Fiji finished 8th overall, earning automatic qualification for the next World Series.  Fiji won Oceania Championship and will be seeded 7th at the games.  Fiji and USA open the competition against one another with the winner having the early advantage for direct QF qualification and avoid the dreaded best third place ranking qualification.

The other team in Pool A will be 12th seed Columbia.  Columbia qualified as the CONSUR champions, upsetting Argentina in the final.  They will be hard pressed to score, let alone win, against their competition.

#TwineTime Projected Standings:  1. Australia  2. Fiji  3. USA  4. Columbia

Pool B

The current World Seven Series Champion and #2 seed New Zealand headlines this pool.  New Zealand completely dominated the World Seven Series and will be very tough to beat in Rio.  While Australia may be seeded above them, New Zealand may actually be considered the gold medal favourite based on recent results.

Joining New Zealand will be #5 France, #8 Spain and #11 Kenya.  France finished 6th in the World Seven Series and won the Europe championship, defeating Russia in the final.  Spain finished 9th in the World Seven Series and finished 4th at the European Championships, suffering losses to France (group stage), Russia (SF) and England (3rd place).  Spain earned their spot here through winning the final Olympic qualification tournament, upsetting Russia in the final.  France and Spain will be playing their opening game against one another and, similar to the situation in Pool A, the winner will have a great shot at easily advancing to the QF.

Kenya is the current African runner-up and failed to qualify for the World Seven Series, losing out in the qualification tournament.  Interesting to note though, South Africa actually won the African championship and the Rio automatic berth but declined the invite citing their team would not be ready to compete competitively.  As a result, Kenya was awarded the spot.  South Africa also withdrew from the final qualification tournament.  Kenya will be hard pressed to make any noise in Rio.

#TwineTime Projected Standings:  1. New Zealand  2. France  3. Spain  4. Kenya

Pool C

Here is where we should see the closest competition in the pool stage.  #3 seed Canada and #4 seed Great Britain headline this pool and the battle for first place will be very competitive.  Both Canada and England qualified from their top 4 finish in the World Seven Series.  Canada actually finished second overall in the series while England finished fourth.  The agreement among the Great Britain nations was the highest qualifier would represent Team GB in Rio.  Canada and GB will not play one another until their final group stage match, which should be for first place in the pool and will give both teams a chance to have a few games under their belt.  It will be a fight though!

Joining the top two nations will be #9 seed and host nation Brazil and #10 seed Japan.  Brazil qualified as host nation but did compete in the World Seven Series, finishing in 10th place and just missed automatic qualification for the next World Seven Series.  Japan qualified as the Asian champions upsetting favoured China in the group stage and knocking off previously undefeated Kazakhstan in the final.  Brazil and Japan should have a strong battle for a long-shot at advancing as best 3rd place team.

#TwineTime Projected Standings:  1. Canada  2. Great Britain  3. Brazil  4. Japan

Knockout Stage

Quarterfinals

Australia over Spain
Great Britain over France
New Zealand over USA
Canada over Fiji

Semifinals

Australia over Great Britain
New Zealand over Canada

Bronze Medal

Canada over Great Britain

Gold Medal

New Zealand over Australia

#TwineTime Medal Picks

Gold - New Zealand
Silver - Australia
Bronze - Canada

MEN


Pool A

Excitement will hit the pitch when Pool A play gets underway.  A HUGE opportunity for all 4 nations here to advance to the knockout stage and have a path towards a medal.  Look at the nations competing here: Fiji, USA, Argentina and Brazil.  None of these four have generally been considered world powers in the sport in the past.  However, opportunity is knocking for one (or more) of these nations, can they take advantage?

Fiji will enter as the #1 seed and are the favourites to bring home a first Olympic medal.  Fiji dominated the World Series, winning the overall title after claiming 4 of 9 event wins.  No team enters this tournament on a hotter winning streak.  The pressure is high on this team to bring back not only a medal but a golden one.

Team USA, similar to their women's team, enter the event as the #6 seed and qualified winning the NACRA championship.  USA did finish 6th at the World Series.  Argentina is the #7 seed and won the CONSUR championship.  Argentina finished 8th at the World Series.  Neither nation should challenge Fiji for top of the group but these teams are very evenly matched and will be in a tight battle for the second spot and automatic QF spot.

Brazil rounds out the field, qualifying as the host nation.  Brazil will be in tough to advance but could give fellow South American nation Argentina a tough go as well as USA.

#TwineTime Projected Standings:  1. Fiji  2. Argentina  3. USA  4. Brazil

Pool B

Welcome to the Group of Death!  #2 South Africa, #5 Australia and #8 France headline this group.  When one thinks of rugby super power nations, South Africa and Australia always come to mind at or near the top of that list.  South Africa finished runner-up in the World Series and should be considered a strong medal threat.  Australia, shockingly to some, actually finished 5th at the World Series and failed to nab one of the automatic qualifying spots (and a Top 4 seed).  Australia had to head back to the Oceania championship and win that event to qualify for Rio.  However, at the Oceania championship, Australia DOMINATED! They played 6 matches, won all 6 and gave up a total of 7 points COMBINED!  They dominated a very good Tonga team (twice) to win.

France finished 11th at the World Series and qualified here by winning the Europe championship, besting Spain and England en route to the title.  France will be in tough to make automatic QF qualification against South Africa and Australia but should be a safe bet to advance as a top 3rd place team.

Spain rounds out the pool as the #11 seed.  Spain is a major dark horse in the tournament and was not expected to qualify here.  Spain did not compete in the World Series and finished runner-up at the European championship.  They won the last-chance qualifier tournament, upsetting favourties Russia (SF) and Samoa (F) to advance.

#TwineTime Projected Standings:  1. South Africa  2. Australia  3. France  4. Spain

Pool C

This pool is set up very similar to Pool C in the women's competition with two strong nations overwhelming favourites to advance and two underdogs looking to maybe make an upset qualification for the QF.  #3 New Zealand and #Great Britain should easily dominate the group and when they take the pitch against one another, top of the pool should be on the line.  Both nations qualified out of the World Series with New Zealand finished 3rd and England finishing 4th.  Again, as England finished above Team GB nations Scotland and Wales, they qualify as the Great Britain representative.  New Zealand should win this group though with England hoping to be an outside team for the podium.

#9 Kenya and #10 Japan round out the pool.  Kenya finished 13th at the World Series, earning automatic qualification for the next World Series.  They also won the African championship, beating Zimbabwe in the final.  Japan finished a disappointing 15th in the World Series, unfortunately resulting in them being relegated for the next World Series.  Japan did win the Asian championship to earn their Rio spot, beating Hong Kong in the final.

#TwineTime Projected Standings:  1. New Zealand  2. Great Britain  3. Japan  4. Kenya

Knockout Stage

Quarterfinals

Fiji over France
Australia over Great Britain
South Africa over USA
New Zealand over Argentina

Semifinals

Fiji over Australia
New Zealand over South Africa

Bronze Medal

Australia over South Africa

Gold Medal

New Zealand over Fiji

#TwineTime Medal Picks

Gold - New Zealand
Silver - Fiji
Bronze - Australia

Stay up to date on all the #BetweenTheRings #Rio2016 Previews below:

Welcome to Rio 2016
Women's Football Preview
Men's Football Preview
Tennis Preview