Ben Ryan guided Fiji to gold at the Rio Olympics and here he casts his eye over the contenders for the Commonwealth Games medals on the Gold Coast
Commonwealth Games rugby sevens preview by Ben Ryan
Prior to the 2010 Commonwealth Games, I hadn’t ever coached a team as machine gunners and snipers manned the clubhouse roof to cover each corner of the pitch, but I ticked that box in Delhi. It was a surreal experience, from being in the bowels of the stadium for hours in ridiculous heat waiting to march out at the opening ceremony, to the cheering local crowds, their excitement peaking when the ball was kicked to touch.
It was incredibly hot during the tournament, too. The run of the England team I was coaching ended in the semi-finals as we lost to a New Zealand team that included All Blacks Ben Smith, Hosea Gear and Liam Messam.
Bernard Foley, Nick Cummins, Nick Phipps, Luke Morahan and Lachie Turner would all become Test stars, having played in the Australian team we beat in the group stages but that went on to win a silver medal.
In the tournament this month on the Gold Coast, Australia wouldn’t have that second chance as it’s only the group winners that progress to the semi-finals. It lessens the tournament in my opinion and it’s a weird decision, considering the women’s event has only eight teams and the top two sides in each group go through to the last four.
England have a particularly difficult group with both Australia, currently fourth in the World Series standings, and Samoa, the team that knocked them out in the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. It’s a tough ask and on current form they will not progress, but they have the players to medal and many have both Olympic and Commonwealth experience, which will make a huge difference.
Multi-sport events like this do come with a tonne of distractions and undoubtedly some teams will fall as a result. I have seen teams overeating in the 24/7 food halls or distracted by being in the presence of so many different athletes and nations.
The biggest threat in Fiji’s group is Wales, but you would expect the Olympic champions to go deep into this tournament – their first Commonwealth Games since 2006 and their expulsion due to the coup later that year.
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South Africa have another home nation, Scotland, in their group but you would fancy the winners of the 2014 Games to medal. Finally, let’s look at New Zealand – the most successful nation in rugby sevens. Here, an upset is possible. Canada and Kenya are in Pool C alongside New Zealand and both have the potential to beat them.
It’s going to be a cracker of a tournament but a cut-throat one too. Uganda, Jamaica, Papua New Guinea, Zambia, Sri Lanka and Malaysia will all be there, and whilst Uganda will show some flashes of brilliance, don’t expect any acts of giant killing – the gap between these teams and the top ten is just too much right now.
The women also make their Commonwealth Games bow and it’s so good that they are alongside the men, after the amazing tournament all the teams had in Rio for the 2016 Olympics.
Again, Australia, New Zealand and Canada will be fancied to take the podium, but England, although they have had a poor couple of seasons, do have the resources and players to upset that celebrated triumvirate.
My prediction for the men’s event? It’s Fiji for me. They have never won gold in the Commonwealth Games and with their recent World Series win in Vancouver, they have shown their form has returned and their stars are shining.
There’s no doubt about it, they will play some scintillating sevens on the Gold Coast, which hosted a leg of the series until it was replaced by Sydney. Fiji won the last one there – another clue that come finals day it will be the bright blue Fijian flag hoisted the highest.
This article appears in the May 2018 edition of Rugby World magazine. Follow Rugby World on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.