New Zealand co-coach Allan Bunting expects the form book to go out of the window when the women’s Olympic sevens tournament gets under way at Tokyo 2020.

Hot on the heels of an enthralling men’s competition, the 12 women’s teams will take centre stage at Tokyo Stadium on Thursday as Australia attempt to defend the title they won in Rio.

France, who qualified for the Olympics via the World Rugby Sevens Repechage in June, and Pool B rivals Fiji kick-off proceedings when they meet at 09:00 local time (GMT+9).

Bunting, who coached New Zealand to back-to-back World Rugby Sevens Series titles in 2019 and 2020, will hope to lead his side back to the gold medal match this week.

The Black Ferns Sevens reached the first women’s Olympic sevens tournament gold medal match in Rio five years ago, but were beaten by their rivals from across the Tasman Sea, Australia.

New Zealand have been in good form in 2021, winning both the Trans-Tasman Sevens and Oceania Sevens, but Bunting is refusing to look further ahead than his team’s Pool A assignments.

The Rio 2016 silver medallists begin their Tokyo 2020 campaign against Kenya at 11:30 local time on Thursday, and then face Great Britain in the penultimate match of day one at 18:30 local time. 

“The way that I see it is that everyone starts level,” Bunting said. 

“What’s happened in the past has been the past and it’s who steps out on the field and makes the most of those 14 minutes each game. 

“At the moment we’re focused on Kenya. It’s an Olympic sport so you’re got to be ready for the best against each team.”

Pool A rivals Great Britain play their first match of Tokyo 2020 at 11:00 local time against the Russian Olympic Committee team (ROC), who then face Kenya in the final match of the day.

Great Britain finished fourth at Rio 2016 and the squad has arrived in Japan determined to win a medal. “We’re feeling well prepared and we’re dreaming big for this tournament,” co-captain Abbie Brown said. 

“We have our sights set on that gold medal, but alongside that, we’re hoping that we can inspire and carve the path for future sevens players, which is something that we’re very passionate about as a group.”

Rio 2016 Gold medallists Australia begin title defence

Australia will begin their bid for a second women’s Olympic sevens gold medal at 10:30 local time (GMT+9) when they take on Japan in Pool C, and they will return to the Tokyo Stadium pitch at 17:30 to play China.

Coach John Manenti has picked five gold medallists in his 13-player squad for the tournament, including three of the four try-scorers against New Zealand five years ago.

The USA are the fourth team in Pool C, and having won events on the 2019 and 2020 Series, the Women’s Sevens Eagles will be medal contenders this week.

“Our experience at the Olympics has been brilliant so far,” coach Chris Brown said. “The atmosphere in the village is one of a kind. 

“We’ve had a sevens-style week of training in the sense that we've been excellent at times and have had some other moments where we've had to find a way to get back on track. 

“The biggest challenge for us will be finding a way to allow ourselves to be free in the moment. That's the key to playing at our absolute best. 

“When we stop trying to control the what ifs and focus on being present and loving the emotional rollercoaster of the game, the result follows suit. 

“I’m most looking forward to seeing these young ladies fight to experience more first-time memories with their best friends and family. When we release the handcuffs, we believe we will get ourselves to the final stages.”

Landry excited ahead of Tokyo 2020

In Pool B, Canada will contest the second match of day one when they take on Brazil at 09:30 local time (GMT+9). The Canadians will then play Fiji at 16:30 local time before France meet Brazil. 

Ghislaine Landry scored 41 points to help Canada to the bronze medal on sevens’ Olympic debut in Rio five years ago, and the all-time leading point scorer on the World Series is raring to go in Tokyo.

“The opportunity to go to another Olympic Games with this team is very exciting,” she said. 

“For the last five years, we've been training hard and hunting down podium finishes. I’m proud of our team and I know we are heading into the Games with a ton of talent and huge potential.  

“We can’t wait to show Canada, and the world, how fast and exciting rugby sevens is.”

On the back of a pulsating men’s competition, it is hoped the women’s Olympic tournaments can help provide a similarly positive impact on participation in Japan as was achieved by hosting Rugby World Cup 2019.

World Rugby Chief Executive Alan Gilpin said: “Following a fantastic debut Olympic in Rio five years ago, we are looking forward to another spectacular showcase of the best of women’s rugby sevens in front of a huge global TV audience over the next three days in Tokyo, culminating in the medal matches on ‘Super Saturday’. 

“Not only are the players exceptional, world class athletes, they are incredible role models both on and off the pitch, combining rugby’s core values of respect, integrity and teamwork, with the strength, speed, skill and flair that makes rugby sevens such an exciting fast-paced and action-packed sport to watch.

“Women’s rugby is going from strength to strength, with more than 2.7 million women and girls currently playing globally, making up a quarter of the world’s playing population and we have ambitious plans to further advance women in rugby at all levels. 

“Accelerating the development of the women’s game is a key strategic objective for World Rugby and the recently launched ‘Team Powered’ campaign is designed to boost the sport’s growth, inspiring a new generation of players and fans to get involved in the ultimate team sport. 

“I am sure the next three days of Olympic competition will provide another great leap forward for the global growth of women’s rugby and we are very happy to play our full and exciting part in the most gender equal Games in history.”