Here's who to look out for during the Games, 26-28 July
Olympics Rugby Men’s Team Guide
The team who blew apart the United States dream in Rio 2016, they are a constant thorn in the side – they go hard no matter the circumstance. Powered by Matías Osadczuk and German Shultz, with veteran Gaston Ravol going nowhere, their great strength is hitting on the counter. As you would expect, they bring emotional energy with them but getting in the mix for medals would be a feat of staying at a high pitch for a whole tournament.
Wallabies powerhouse Samu Kerevi will draw attention, but it is the sustained excellence of Maurice Longbottom which often makes things happen. A team leader who can send defenders to buy tomorrow’s paper with his footwork and a character you can create momentum with. Nic Malouf is the skipper and Henry Hutchison is another senior figure – both have switched to 15s and back. The Aussies have shown quality in fits and starts but are capable of errors at the wrong time. And at this level…
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You could feel the burning disappointment after the 2016 Games, when New Zealand weren’t even close to contending for a medal. Since redirecting their programme – hell, their identity – they have won the World Cup Sevens and Commonwealth Games. Scott Curry and Tim Mikkelson are the twin hearts of the side who have battled through a time when critics have suggested that a lack of pitch-charring speed has held them back. They are ruthless, they love to win and they are all about synergy. Look out for Kurt Baker too – one of this game’s kings of celebrating the good times.
Everyone loves an underdog story, and in getting to the Games, in many ways the South Koreans have already told their tale. Seeded fourth in the Asian qualifier, they overturned favourites Hong Kong to make it in. Will they stand up in these Games? The gulf in class in fitness and composure should show, but with their forwards, Seong-min Jang is capable of scarpering away and Hyun-Soo Kim gets in the mixer.
No one has fought harder to keep their sevens programme going than the Canadians. Led by playmaking outlet (and emotional barometer) Nate Hiroyama (who is one of Canada’s flagbearers in the opening ceremony!) this group is more about the out-and-out doggedness of grafters like Connor Braid and the composure of long-termers like Harry Jones. Can they outwork their way to the top? It’s a really tough ask of Henry Paul’s side.
What a story it was for them in 2016. Fiji won their first ever Olympic gold medal thanks to the men’s sevens, cementing their legacy as national legends and turning then head coach Ben Ryan into an icon on the islands. While 2016 gold medalists Jerry Tuwai (recently voted sevens player of the decade) is back and you may have seen Napolioni Bolaca post big numbers on the Series, you probably won’t keep reading pas the name Semi Radradra.
But expect a chorus line of outrageously-skilled stars having a go from everywhere. The most entertaining team on the planet when they get going. Can they do the double?
The silver medalists last time around, they were blown away by Fiji. Since then, they have not all played together as a GB unit (though the majority are the English core still) and each nation has had some really tough times clinging on to the dream as national programmes have been ravaged in a brutal climate. But look at how they have persevered. There is obvious quality in playmakers Tom Mitchell and Dan Bibby, as well as all-time men’s try-scorer Dan Norton. Max McFarland can also go the length, while Ollie Lindsay-Hague has a step to embarrass.
The hosts have been in and out of the Sevens World Series like an international hokey-cokey, but this is their event and in a climate of mistrust in Japan, with many fans protesting the games being on at all, they will want to give the nation some cheer. Consistency is usually an issue, but in 2016 they stunned New Zealand in the group stages and surpassed France in the knock-outs, only to lose to eventual winners Fiji in the semi-finals. Yoshikazu Fujita and Lote Tuqiri shouldn’t be new names to sevens fans.
It smells like team spirit, it looks like team spirit – final qualifiers Ireland are one seriously tight group. Jordan Conroy is a try machine who has frightened defenders across the globe for several years now. His near-telepathic link-up with Terry Kennedy shines through in so much of what they do. Billy Dardis is a canny operator and hell, if it’s your thing, there’s also have Love Island winner Greg O’Shea in the group. Will be a neutrals’ favourite (if Fiji aren’t playing) and they feed off the energy of match-ups with the more fancied sides.
You know this team are in the mood when you can hear them singing on their way to the changing room. A programme who scrap for everything they get even in the best of times, they are made up of dedicated athletes who work jobs away from rugby and travel long distances just to put the time in as a team. And still they are a core Series stalwart, capable of beating the best. Power and rhythm, that’s what they bring at their best. Vincent Onyala is the future, but respect the aged figures who built this team into what it has become, with Willy Ambaka, Andrew Amonde and Collins Injera.
Sadly, they will work without coach Neil Powell on the sidelines after the coach contracted Covid. However, as he recently told Rugby World, 2016 was an eye-opener.
The Olympics had not loomed as large in the public consciousness after years of exclusion during the Apartheid era, he told us. But they won a bronze medal last time out, and this diverse group – who many say is a sporting side who representative modern South Africa’s cultural make-up – have become one of the most consistent teams on the sevens circuit. In the Series, though, they specialise in amassing points and staying in the running for the overall title. Here, it’s about pulling together a cup run. This group have lost personnel to the Springboks of late, but in Chris Dry, Siviwe Soyizwapi, Selvyn Davids, Justin Geduld, JC Pretorius and Stedman Gans AND Branco du Preez, they have one of the tightest units around.
The self-styled Dawgs have talked of realising potential for years. Gifted with incredible athletes – from scorching runners to lovers of collision – they need to nail decision-making time after time. Their head coach Mike Friday is a canny operator and if they are allowed to create space watch out because they will be gone. Carlin Isles can hit ridiculous speeds, Perry Baker can do that while sliding between gaps, Martin Iosefo is relentless and Danny Barrett just hits real, real hard. Potent stuff.
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