Cast your mind back to the summer of 2016. Warm weather. Tan game strong. A festival of sport descended on Rio.
The Olympics of 2016 were spectacular, but it was a less traditional Olympic sport that captured the imagination. Rugby Sevens stepped out of the spotlight of the 15s game and earned itself a legion of new fans with its high energy, fast-paced, non-stop action.
Now 7s returns to centre stage at another major multi-sport tournament, the Commonwealth Games. The sport is no stranger to the Games. The first time it featured was in 1998 in Kuala Lumpar, and has appeared at every staging since including Manchester, Melbourne and Delhi. Now, as we return to Australia on the Gold Coast, Rugby 7s is at its highest point in terms of popularity and notoriety. The World Rugby 7s Series continues to grow, and the level of play improves year on year.
So what can we expect from the 7s tournament. First of all, on the men’s side, the set-up is absolutely ruthless. Four pools of four play each other once, but only the top team qualify from each pool for the semi-final. There is no space for an off-game – lose and you are more than likely headed out. Two semi-finals will then determine who plays in which medal matches. In the women’s event, two pools of four battle it out, with the top two from each pool reaching the semi-finals. This is the first time the women’s event has taken place in Commonwealth Games, so the victor will take a special place in history.
Rugby 7s is a game that prides itself on showcasing all rugby nations, and it is not always the major rugby powerhouses that triumph. Back in Rio it was Fiji that won an historic gold in the men’s event, the country’s first ever Olympic medal, and they have had consistent success in the World Rugby Sevens circuit of the years. Add to them Samoa and Kenya and you see the balance of power in 7s doesn’t always tilt towards the big boys. That being said, the likes of Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and England (along with Fiji) have been the teams consistently challenging for medals at Commonwealth Games.
In fact, it’s the host country’s near neighbours who have the most decorated history in this tournament. New Zealand won four gold medals in a row from 1998 in the men’s event, only losing out in the final to South Africa in 2014 in Glasgow. Australia will be looking to beat their best ever finish of second, while Fiji will look to complete the first ever Olympic–Commonwealth Double by picking up the gold.
What of England’s hopes across both events? In the women’s they will be hopeful of reaching the semi-finals, although face both Australia and Fiji in the pool so already face a stern test. In the men’s event, they are faced with a ‘Pool of Death’, with the hosts Australia and talented Samoan team standing in their way. If they are to win gold or even claim a medal, they’ll have to do it the hard way.
The Commonwealth Games also has another layer of intrigue as it falls just three months before the Rugby World Cup Sevens in San Francisco. While this event might not include the full RWC line-up, this will serve as perfect tournament practice ahead of San Fran.
A weekend of rugby sevens awaits us. The world watched as 7s stole the show in Rio. As the event finally lands on the Gold Coast, with essentially a win-or-bust format, it looks set to do the same again at the Commonwealth Games.
Check out our Commonwealth Games Infographic below and follow us across Social Media: /GilbertRugby