Twenty-two teams will gather for the World Rugby Sevens Repechage in Monaco this weekend to determine which of the two women’s teams and one men’s team will complete the line-up for the rugby sevens competition in Tokyo in just over a month’s time, on 26-31 July, at the Tokyo Stadium.
The Tokyo Olympic repechage represents the last opportunity for teams to realise their dream of playing at the world’s biggest sporting event, with every continent represented in what should prove to be a global celebration of all that is good about rugby sevens.
Ahead of the first match between the Zimbabwe and Mexico men’s teams, we give you the lowdown on the tournament where the ultimate prize of a place in the Olympics is at stake.
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WHO COMPETES IN IT?
The Olympic repechage is the final part of the global qualifying process and features the best-placed eligible teams who missed out on automatic qualification via their respective regional qualification tournaments.
WHAT’S THE FORMAT?
For the men’s competition, the nine teams were drawn into two pools, including one team from each of the five pre-determined bands of seeds.
The top two teams from each pool progress through to the knockout stages, culminating in the final with the winner booking their place on the plane to Tokyo.
Band 1: France, Samoa
Band 2: Hong Kong, Ireland
Band 3: Chile, Tonga
Band 4: Zimbabwe
Band 5: Jamaica, Mexico
In the women’s competition 12 teams were drawn into three pools of four teams. The teams were banded based on placements in their regional competitions alongside performances in World Rugby tournaments. One team from each band of seeds was drawn into each pool.
Band 1: France, Papua New Guinea, Russia
Band 2: Argentina, Hong Kong, Kazakhstan
Band 3: Colombia, Jamaica, Mexico
Band 4: Madagascar, Samoa, Tunisia
The top two teams in each pool, plus the two third-placed teams with the highest point totals will qualify for the knockout stages of the women’s competition.
As there are two Olympic qualification places available for women, the repechage will feature two rounds of knockout games with the final round featuring four teams competing in two matches where both winners gain Olympic qualification and claim their tickets to Tokyo.
WHO ARE THE FAVOURITES?
France are expected to be in contention for Olympic qualification in both competitions. Neither side was that far off the pace in qualifying via the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series and they are not burdened by travel, with Monaco right on their doorstep.
France’s women are led by wily head coach David Courteix and head into the repechage in good form having won an international sevens preparation tournament at St George’s Park in England last month. They are in the same pool as Hong Kong, Madagascar and Colombia.
This could represent the last shot at Olympic glory for some of the stalwarts of the men’s team like Terry Bouhraoua, and they will back themselves to emerge victorious from a pool containing potential dark horses Hong Kong, Chile and Jamaica.
Ireland have enjoyed meteoric progress on the men’s scene in recent years and in Jordan Conroy, they can call upon the finishing power of last year’s World Series top try-scorer. Victory at the recent St George’s Park International Sevens tournament will have boosted confidence further ahead of Monaco.
Meanwhile, 2016 repechage runners-up Samoa cannot be written off as they look to go one better this time around. Their fourth-place finish in the opening round of the 2020 Series marks them as contenders although their season fell away after that promising start.
Alongside France, 2016 finalists and current European champions Russia are the most-feared team in the women’s competition. They warmed up for this weekend’s tournament by winning the first leg of the Rugby Europe Sevens Championship in Lisbon a fortnight ago and many of the stars, such as Elena Zdrokova, who played in the last repechage in Dublin five years ago, will get the chance to set the record straight.
WHAT HAPPENED IN 2016?
Spain won the only available tickets to the Olympic Games in Rio after thrilling wins in the finals of the men’s and women’s competitions.
Los Leones Sevens scored with the last play of the game to break Samoa’s hearts, while in the battle between the top two seeds in the women’s event, Las Leonas Sevens saw off Russia 19-12.
Canada men’s failure to get past the quarter-finals was considered a shock given their performances in the World Series.
The North Americans were comfortably top-scorers in the tournament, but lost out to Russia in the Cup quarter-finals.
WHO WERE THE STANDOUT STARS?
While Ignacio Martin Goenaga was the hero for Spain with the decisive try in the final, the tournament’s leading try-scorers came from outside of the final contenders in Tonga’s Taliauli Sikuea and Russia’s Vladislav Sozonov, who both scored seven tries apiece.
Four players were tied at the top of the women’s try-scoring charts but it was Patricia Garcia’s exploits for Spain that will be remembered most.
Garcia scored a brace in the final win over Russia to bring her level with Ireland duo, Alison Miller and Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe and Russia’s Elena Zdrokova on seven tries.
ANY 15s STARS PLAYING THIS YEAR?
The inclusion of former All Black, Malakai Fekitoa, has captured the headlines as Tonga’s captain attempts to add an Olympic medal to his Rugby World Cup winner’s medal from 2015, something that fellow New Zealand centre Sonny Bill Williams tried, and failed, to do in Rio.
Fekitoa is surrounded by 15s players in the Tonga squad, including Wallaby international Lopeti Timani and ‘Ikale Tahi back-row Jack Ram.
France’s Gabin Villiere comes back to sevens after being capped in 15s by Les Bleus in the Autumn Nations Cup and Six Nations 2021, while Caroline Drouin, a leading performer for Les Bleues, is named in the women’s squad.
Meanwhile, Veronique Rasoanekena, scorer of Madagascar’s first-ever test try, is named in the Ladies Makis squad.
WHERE TO WATCH?
If you’re not lucky enough to be one of the 5,000 fans allowed to attend in person, the good news is that all the action from Monaco will be available to watch on World Rugby's digital platforms. For full details, click here >>
In addition, viewers in the following territories will be able to watch the action on television: France (France.TV), Chile (CDO Chile), Spain (Rugby Challenge Spain), Russia (Match TV) and Argentina (Depor TV).
The men's pool action will start on the evening of Friday, 18 June before the remainder of the pool matches and those in the women’s competition are played on Saturday, 19 June and Sunday, 20 June, with the crucial knockout ties also to be played on Sunday.