Our team by team preview to this week's women's Olympic 7s event.
The women's event runs over three days, starting on Thursday, July 29 with France taking on Fiji at 9am. The first two rounds of pool games take place on that day, with the final round and the first of the knockouts on Friday 30. The Gold Medal game kicks off at 6pm on Saturday 31 (all local times)
(v Russia P27, W24, L1, D2; v Great Britain P1 W1; v Kenya P3 W3)
If it is hard to see beyond New Zealand winning gold, it is impossible to see them seriously struggling in this pool. Their game against Russia will be interesting, as will that against Great Britain, but if is over six years since their only defeat by Russia and five years since they lost to England, who make up most of the GB squad.
Sarah Hirini is captain with seven players from the team that took silver at the last Olympics - Kelly Brazier, Gayle Broughton, Theresa Fitzpatrick, Tyla Nathan-Wong, Ruby Tui, Portia Woodman and Michaela Blyde. Three of them - Tui, Woodman and Blyde - are former World Rugby Women's Sevens Players of the Year award winners.
Since that silver, the Ferns have won 16 out of 22 World Series tournaments, the World Cup Sevens and Commonwealth Games gold.
In addition, Risaleaana Pouri-Lane was part of the team that won Youth Olympic Games gold in 2018.
The only problem New Zealand have is a lack of playing opportunities since they won the Sydney 7s in 2020, with just 12 games played against Australia, Fiji and an Oceania Select team, 11 of which were won.
“The internal competition we have has really driven this group. We’ve got a spine that operates really well who we have massive faith in, but then we’ve got these great young players and players, I describe as hidden warriors, who have been doing a lot of work that you don’t really hear much about," said co-coach Allan Bunting.
Squad: Portia Woodman, Sarah Hirini (capt.), Ruby Tui, Tyla Nathan Wong, Theresa Fitzpatrick, Stacey Fluhler, Michaela Blyde, Alena Saili, Risaleaana Pouri-Lane, Kelly Brazier, Gayle Broughton, Shiray Kaka
Russian Olympic Committee (ROC)
(v Great Britain P1 W1; v Kenya P5 W5)
Russia finally qualified for the Games through the world repechage last month having slipped up one game from their goal on three time previous occasions. That remains the biggest concern with this talented team – they can allow pressure to get to them.
However, it is an area they have worked hard on and in the runup to the Games this year they won two rounds of the Madrid 7s and the European Championship as well as the repechage.
One of those qualification defeats was against England in Europe’s Olympic qualifier in 2019, and they will have a chance to avenge that defeat having drawn Great Britain in this pool. Although they have only played the full GB team once, they have played England a remarkable 44 times and lead that series by a narrow 23-19. That game will be one to watch, though in practice both teams should make the quarter-finals comfortably
Alena Tiron (formerly Bogacheva and Mikhaltsova) captains the team as she did in the Sevens World Cup. The DHL “Impact Player” for the 2019 World Series, Alena could have been to the Olympics as an athlete as a one of Russia’s leading sprinters before she switched to rugby in 2013. She leads a team full of experience including former captain Nadezhda Sozonova (formerly Kudinova), Elena Zdrokova and Baizat Khamidova - at 30 the oldest member of the squad.
Only Mariya Pogrebnyak has yet to make her World Series debut.
Squad: Daria Noritsina, Mariya Pogrebnyak, Daria Shestakova, Alena Tiron , Baizat Khamidova, Iana Danilova, Kristina Seredina, Marina Kukina, Daria Lushina, Elena Zdrokova, Nadezhda Sozonova, Anna Baranchuk
(v Kenya - no previous meetings)
Great Britain narrowly missed out on a medal in 2016, finishing fourth, and are hoping to go at least one better this time.
Their preparation for Tokyo has been less than ideal, however with COVID triggering a financial crisis within the RFU, who were funding their preparations (uniquely they received no financial support from their Olympic federation UK Sport). Although sponsorship by the National Lottery closed some of the gap, it was less than ideal for their preparations.
As a result, the 2021 GB team has only had a fraction of the playing opportunities that the 2016 team had. Their main preparation tournament in Los Angeles in particular almost fell apart with the late withdrawal of Kenya, leaving GB to play only Mexico and the USA, who they played four times, with three defeats and a draw. In addition they played a series against Ireland which they lost 2-1, and a three-way tournament with France and Ireland where they ended as runners up to France.
Nonetheless this is a talented squad, based around the England World Series squad, but strengthened with leading players from Wales and Scotland. They should be competing for a semi-final place, and if they achieve that anything is possible
England’s Megan Jones returns as co-captain alongside Abbie Brown, who also featured at the Games five years ago. England’s Natasha Hunt and Wales’ Jasmine Joyce have also been recalled to Team GB’s Olympics squad for a second time. In addition Deborah Fleming, England’s highest points scorer during the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2018, and Rugby World Cup 2014 winner Alex Matthews bring extra experience to the squad. Of the rest of the squad former youth athlete Celia Quansah (heptathlon and long jump) finally achieves her Olympic ambition having switched to rugby in 2018.
Squad: Celia Quansah, Deborah Fleming, Alex Matthews, Abbie Brown (co-captain), Abi Burton, Holly Aitchison, Natasha Hunt, Megan Jones (co-captain), Helena Rowland, Hannah Smith, Emma Uren, Jasmine Joyce, Lisa Thomson (13th player)
The Kenyan Union and Rugby Afrique have given Kenya every possible playing opportunity to prepare for these Games. Kenya have attended the Madrid 7s, the Dubai Invitational and the African Solidarity Camp this year, giving then 25 matches against some of the leading teams in the world, including fellow Olympic qualifiers France, United States, Russia, Japan, Brazil and Canada.
Unfortunately, they have also lost every game against another Olympic team, only recording wins against Madagascar, Tunisia and Spain.
These results are probably a good guide to the mountain Kenya have to climb – and indeed any non-World Series team faces at these Games.
To make matters worse half the squad was confined to their hotel rooms for the first few days due to a COVID link with one of their flights to Tokyo.
Captain Philadelphia Olando is one of three survivors from Rio, the others being Sheila Chajira and Janet Okello. Other key players are likely to be Stella Wafula, Christabel Lindo, Diana Awino and Vivian Akumu as the attempt to improve on their 11th-place in Rio.
Squad: Philadelphia Olando (Capt.),Sheila Chajira, Stellah Wafula, Christabel Lindo, Leah Wambui, Judith Auma, Vivian Akumu, Sarah Oluche, Grace Adhiambo, Cynthia Atieno, Janet Okello, Sinaida Aura, Diana Awino
(v France P38 W31 L7; v Fiji P17 W15 L2; v Brazil P22 W21 D1)
Canada should reach the last eight fairly comfortably, but coaching turmoil and a lack of playing opportunities in the past year has not been an ideal preparation.
Canada’s only tournament since the 2020 Sydney 7s was the Dubai Invitational in April where they won the first tournament (despite losing to France), but lost in the final 17-12 , again to France, who they also meet in this pool, in the second. Their two wins against rivals the United States will have been encouraging.
The battle with France will be exciting, the rest of the pool should hold few concerns for Canada. Bronze medallists from Rio they will be targeting to at least repeat that, if not go better, which they should. Returning without a medal will be disappointing.
A massively experienced squad has been selected with six survivors from Rio including captain Ghislaine Landry, who has scored more World Series points (1,356) than any other player since making her debut against Russia in Dubai almost nine years ago. Bianca Farella and Britt Benn, Kayla Moleschi, Karen Paquin, and Charity Williams are the other five.
Squad: Elissa Alarie, Olivia Apps, Britt Benn, Pamphinette Buisa, Bianca Farella, Julia Greenshields, Ghislaine Landry, Kaili Lukan, Kayla Moleschi, Breanne Nicholas, Karen Paquin, Keyara Wardley, Charity Williams
(v Fiji P3 W3; v Brazil P 16, W15, L1)
No team has been busier than France in preparation for these Games. Despite having to pull out of the second Madrid 7s due to a COVID scare, France have still played 27 games this year, including matches against all major northern hemisphere medal contenders.
They won the second Dubai Invitational, having only lost out in the first to Canada on points difference; reached the final of the first Madrid 7s, beat Great Britain in their Olympic warm-up event, and strolled through their Olympic repechage.
In individual match-ups they beat Canada twice, Great Britain twice and USA once, but have also lost to Russia twice, USA twice and Great Britain once.
Fanny Horta, France's captain at Rio 2016, is one of four players to returning from Rio. She is joined by Camille Grassineau, who scored the first-ever Olympics try in rugby sevens, Lina Guerin and Shannon Izar.
Séraphine Okemba and Chloé Jacquet are rewarded for their outstanding performances in the Olympic Repechage in Monaco with a place in the squad. Okemba top-scored at the final qualification tournament with 10 tries.
Meanwhile, Anne-Cécile Ciofani will follow in the footsteps of her parents, who are both former Olympians.
Squad: Coralie Bertrand, Anne-Cécile Ciofani, Caroline Drouin, Camille Grassineau, Lina Guerin, Fanny Horta, Shannon Izar, Chloé Jacquet, Carla Neisen, Séraphine Okemba, Chloé Pelle, Jade Ulutule, Joanna Grisez, Nassira Konde, Yolaine Yengo
(v Brazil P10, W8, L2)
Fiji have played just six games since the Sydney 7s in 2020, all in the Oceania 7s in June where they beat Australia and the Oceania select team (twice), but also lost to Australia and New Zealand (twice).
That 19-12 win against Australia captured a lot of attention, and was well deserved. It also illustrates the way Fiji can never be discounted. They have the talent, but have never been able to match that with consistency.
They were eighth in Rio and might reasonably be expected to improve on that. The quarter-finals are well within their reach, but getting beyond that will require them to pull out the sort of performance they managed against Australia last month.
Off the field their preparations have been less than ideal. Simply getting to Tokyo at all has been a challenge, some players being forced to take unscheduled cargo flights to get to the Games. In addition injury has robbed them of Vani Buleki and Luisa Tisolo, but captain Rusila Nagasau and Rejieli Daveua are return for their second Games.
Squad: Rusila Nagasau (captain), Rejieli Daveua, Sesenieli Donu, Vasiti Solikoviti, Reapi Uluinasau, Tokasa Seniyasi, Viniana Riwai, Ana Naimasi, Aloesi Nakoci, Laisana Likuceva, Roela Radiniyavuna, Lavena Cavuru. Reserves: Lavenia Tinai, Ana Maria Roqica, Rejieli Uluinayau
South American champions – again – last November, Brazil were also in Dubai where they only managed to record wins against Kenya, having been well beaten by both France and Canada, who they will also meet in this pool.
Brazil illustrate how difficult it is for any team outside the World Series to bridge the chasm. A lot of support has been poured into their programme since before the Rio games, but they have still struggled to break through.
Four players return from Rio - Haline Scatrut, Isadora Cerullo, Luiza Gonzalez and captain Raquel Kochhann – where the Yaras will have been disappointed with their ninth. Without home support its is unlikely they will improve on that.
Squad: Nicolau, Luiza Gonzalez da Costa, Rafaela Zanellato, Leila Cassia dos Santos, Thalia da Silva Costa, Isadora Cerullo, Aline Ribeiro Furtado, Mariana Fiovaranti, Haline Leme Scatrut, Raquel Kochhann (captain), Bianca dos Santos Silva and Thalita da Silva Costa. The two reserve athletes selected are Eshyllen Coimbra and Gabriela Lima
(v USA P34, W20, L11, D3; v China P16, W15, L2; v Japan P15, W13, L2)
The gold medallists in 2016, Australia have never managed to recaptured the heights of that year. They lost the Commonwealth Games final to New Zealand in 2018 and since then, the rest of the world has started to catch up while the Ferns have accelerated away.
They have played New Zealand eight times this year with just one win, in a game where the Ferns shuffled their squad, while they lost one of their games against Fiji in the Oceania 7s.
That said this pool should be a stroll including, as it does, two non-World Series teams, and with this squad they really should be in medal contention. Led by Sharni Williams and Shannon Parry it also includes Emma Tonegato, Evania Pelite and Charlotte Caslick from Rio.
However, it does not include Ella Green – the most prolific try-scorer in Australian women’s sevens history – who was left out by coach John Manenti admitted was the “hardest call” he’s ever made.
Squad: Shannon Parry (co-capt.), Sharni Williams (co-capt.), Faith Nathan, Dominique Du Toit, Emma Tonegato, Evania Pelite, Charlotte Caslick, Madison Ashby, Tia Hinds, Sariah Paki, Demi Hayes, Maddison Levi
United States (v China P18, W17, L1; v Japan P17, W16, L1)
The United States have been very active this year. Although they pulled out of the second Madrid 7s due to a Covid scare, they have played 24 games this year including a 3-0 (one draw) series win against Great Britain, third place in both Dubai Invitationals, and third place in Madrid.
Overall those games saw the USA record 18 wins and a draw, but lose games against major medal rivals France, Russia and Canada (though they also beat France twice).
They will obviously make the last eight without any problems, after which it may depend on the draw. They are a good outside bet for a medal but in practice will do well to improve in fifth in 2016.
Only Lauren Doyle and Alev Kelter will play in their second Olympic Games. Abby Gustaitis and Kristen Thomas are co-captains. Ariana Ramsey has yet to play in the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series, but earned her place after her performance at the Pan American Games in 2019, where the US won silver.
Squad: Kayla Canett-Oca, Lauren Doyle, Cheta Emba, Abby Gustaitis (co-captain), Nicole Heavirland, Alev Kelter, Kristi Kirshe, Ilona Maher, Jordan Matyas, Ariana Ramsey, Naya Tapper, Kristen Thomas (co-captain), Nia Toliver (13th player), Kasey McCravey (travelling reserve), Nana Fa’avesi (travelling reserve)
China (v Japan P43 W21 L21 D1)
China’s record against Japan is illustrative of where one of the biggest rivalries at this year’s Games will be!
China have not played any international sevens since the Hamilton 7s in January 2020, where they beat Spain to take 9th place and that lack of international exposure must be their major obstacle. This obviously makes judging their likely performance very difficult but it is safe to say that reaching the quarter-finals will count as a success in what is China’s first Olympics.
China have appointed an overseas coach - Scotland’s Euan Mackintosh – who has included three players – Yan Meiling, Yang Feifei and Liu Xiaoqian – from China’s bronze medal team at the Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing in 2014.
On the other hand Yu Xiaoming, Yu Liping and captain Yan Min are the most experienced players having made their World Series debut between 2012 and 2014. Chen Keyi has also played at two Sevens World Cups.
Squad: Tang Minglin, Ruan Hongting, Wu Juan, Wang Wanyu, Liu Xiaoqian, Yan Meiling, Xu Xiaoyan, Yu Xiaoming, Yu Liping, Yang Min (captain), Chen Keyi, Yang Feifei, Gu Yaoyao
Japan took part in both rounds of the Dubai Invitational in April, but won only one game – against Kenya – which gave them fifth in the second tournament. While Japan were also competitive against Brazil, they were well beaten in their games with Canada, France and the United States.
These tournaments helped fill a gap caused by the cancellation of the Asian 7s, here Japan are the current champions having won the 2019 series.
It will be interesting to see if that recent experience will give them the edge against China – a crucial game as Japan try to do better than the ninth that the last hosts, Brazil, managed in 2016. Realistically that is likely to be the peak of their expectations.
Only two players - Ayaka Suzuki and Mio Yamanaka – return from Rio where Japan ended 10th. Mayu Shimizu and Bativakalolo Raichelmiyo are co-captains .
Squad: Mei Ohtani, Marin Kajiki, Mifuyu Koide, Mayu Shimizu (co-captain), Miyu Shirako, Honoka Tsutsumi, Hana Nagata, Bativakalolo Raichelmiyo (co-captain), Wakaba Hara, Yume Hirano, Haruka Hirotsu, Rinka Matsuda
Our eight for the quarter-finals: