Citius, Altius, Fortius.
The words immortalised by Baron Pierre de Coubertin, considered the founder of the modern Olympics. They translate as faster, higher, stronger – and have been taken as the motto of the Olympic Games.
The world will soon see how the rugby teams embarking on their Olympic journey have the athletes possessing range of skill sets to challenge even the most gifted of track decathlete, the explosive power of the high jumpers, and a significant proportion of strength of the weightlifters.
In showcasing the journey of rugby sevens into the greatest show in the world I would like to look into the history of the Olympics and its connection with rugby.
2016 brings about rugby’s fifth involvement in an Olympic Games (after featuring in 1900, 1908, 1920 and 1924). Rugby sevens is a format that depicts the motto of the Olympics perfectly and the shortened format is going to take the game of rugby to whole new levels.
It is worth noting that USA are reigning gold medalists of rugby in the Olympics, a fact I’m sure they are aware of, with France and Australasia also previous winners - the idea of New Zealand and Australia pairing their efforts is a frightening concept! The inclusion of the women’s game is also a testament to the growth of sevens.
No less than eight teams have won a world series event in the last 12 rounds, showcasing the incredible competition within the world’s best teams, and only 12 have the pleasure of representing their families, countries and the sport in Rio.
One of the needed pre-requisites for sevens is pace. The world’s fastest rugby players will be tearing it up in Rio, but perhaps most noticeable is the overall pace for every team. Specifically, the likes of South Africa, USA and Team GB have pace to burn and their game plans will be around how to get those lethal finishers the chance to rip up the turf with their jet-shoes. Carlin Isles, Perry Baker, Seabelo Senatla and Dan Norton are names to look out for emblazoned across the world’s media, and what a concept of them showcasing their speed in the same city as the fastest man in the world, Usain Bolt.
By ‘higher’ I also reference power. New Zealand and Fiji are the most noticeable physically. They lead the way of overall athleticism as the big men are also quick, but winning collisions as they always do enables them to use an offloading game and hand-eye co-ordination that would rival the players in volleyball and badminton.
Tactics for these teams contrast hugely, as New Zealand are well-versed with breakdowns and use them tactically to hold the ball and create mismatches, whereas Fiji are setting new standards in avoiding rucks. They simply keep the ball in play at every opportunity, and having less than one ruck per try over the series showcases this. What is also somewhat defying of physics is the like of Josua Tuisova and Savenaca Rawaca’s ability to run at pace with such ferocity it would take an army of men to stop them, if indeed they had the commitment to do so.
Look no further than the teams making up the third tier of the groups. France, Kenya and Argentina are teams that regularly show their dominance physically. In combining this brute strength, with a never-say-die attitude, it is worth avoiding getting into an arm wrestle with these teams at all costs!
All three will be looking to shock the seedings, and progress as being highly ranked in their pools, which they all are capable of doing so. Throw in individual talent such as the enigmatic Virimi Vakatawa, the bull dozing William Ambaka and the guile of Juan Imhoff and there is more than just a chance of disruption.
A noticeable omission so far is the Australian team who are indifferent within tournament standings (but occasionally outstanding) and they are always highly competitive. They have individuals capable of creating magic, like Lewis Holland and Cameron Clark, and have a togetherness that is the envy of some other nations. Under Andy Friend they have found consistency and would be well worth watching.
Icing the pills with a few bag eggs pic.twitter.com/V4Sy0Yu6Jd— Lewi Holland (@lewiholland15) July 31, 2016
Elsewhere, Spain, Brazil and especially Japan are teams all capable of using their strengths of the set piece, a passing game and the fact sevens is unpredictable as any other sport to rattle teams and perhaps cause huge upsets.
…So what next?
Strap in!! This tournament is going to create new conversations around the world about what rugby, and specifically sevens, is all about. Highlights of rugby, big-hits, offloads, and outrageous attack will feature in every game, and 10-week conditioning programmes will mean the efforts will be relentless for all three days, but on 11 August at 19.20 there will be a gold medal team and I, like many, cannot wait for this!