Chris Cracknell is convinced the rugby sevens competition at the Olympics will have won over a legion of new fans because of the excitement and skills on show.
After three days of men's competition featuring dramatic comebacks, eye-catching results and sensational rugby, the only disappointment was that there were no fans inside the Olympic Stadium to watch the drama unfold.
Cracknell, 36, played at a Rugby World Cup Sevens and Commonwealth Games and was a mainstay on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series for many a year and says the Olympics reminded him of what he is missing.
“You’ve got 14 minutes of exciting football; plenty of space and plenty of offloads, everything’s been on a knife-edge and form cards have been chucked out of the window. I just think it has been incredible to watch,” he enthused.
“I am still envious I can’t play the game and part of me wishes I was still involved in some way shape or form because it is such an incredible sport for athletic ability and skill sets of players both individually and collectively.
“You only have got to listen to Rob Vickerman talk about it in commentary. He has done every game and he was just as enthusiastic in the last game as he was in the first.”
Great Britain’s recovery from 21-0 down to beat the USA 26-21 and Argentina’s five-man win against South Africa in the quarter-finals were just two of the matches where Cracknell believes the sport sold itself.
“Some of the match-ups were incredible. If you take that GB game against the USA and put that in front of a neutral… What a game of rugby!
“The USA were up and changed tactics and Great Britain came back into it and played some amazing rugby led by Dan Bibby and Ollie Lindsay-Hague.
“And you can take that New Zealand game against GB where they went through the gears to get into the final.
“Go to the other side of the draw and you look at the team unity of Argentina and how they played for one another and out of their skins above and beyond a side that won bronze in Rio and has been one of the standout teams on the circuit for years. That didn’t faze the Argentinians at all, they stuck to their game plan, didn't go off script and achieved a remarkable victory.
“And then you’ve got Fiji who struggled a little bit on day one and then just upped the ante and went through the gears.
“Put any of those games in front of a neutral and what an advert for the game you’ve got.”
Leading from the front
While rugby sevens as a sport was a winner, it was defending champions Fiji who once again took home gold after a 27-12 win against New Zealand in Wednesday’s final.
Cracknell, who assisted Ben Ryan at the Rio Olympics and also coached Fiji's women, says that while you can’t compare the two wins, some of the similarities are obvious. Take Rio gold medal winner Jerry Tuwai, for example.
“Jerry is someone who if you presented him with a challenge, he would do anything to overcome that challenge. If you said to Jerry, I don’t think we can pick you for this tournament, he would go and train the absolute house down,” explained Cracknell.
“The responsibility of him becoming a father and the responsibility of him becoming captain after (Rio captain) Osea Kolinisau … all of those challenges are things that Jerry looks to overcome with the best of his ability. He has led from the front and been the face of it.
“There have been two other guys who have been a constant behind the scenes in Naca (Cawanibuka) the strength and conditioner and William (Koong) the physio. What we see on the pitch is very much a product of their hard work off the pitch.
“What Naca gets out of the boys with the resources he has got is unbelievable, and William is literally one of the best physios outside of Brett Davison that I have ever worked with.
“What both of them do for the players in terms of making sure they get to the airport, that they get home okay, that they get what they need, and the extra help and psychological guidance that they get, goes way beyond what their job titles are.”
Same but different
Ryan was responsible for putting that backroom place and Cracknell points out that Fiji’s success in defending the title is another example of how his legacy lives on.
“Every challenge is different, every journey is different and every Olympic cycle is different, so I don’t think you can compare Rio and Tokyo but I do think you can go back as far as when Ben moved out to Fiji (in 2013) and took that opportunity,” he said.
“When you look at the legacy that he left behind, the parameters and foundations originally put in place by him, they have obviously been carried on fantastically well by (head coach) Gareth Baber.”
Cracknell attested to the need to overcome adversity as another recurring theme of the two gold medal wins.
“In 2016, you had the turmoil that the country went through with Cyclone Winston, and then this time around the boys have had to overcome being away from home for five to six months. I think Gareth Baber was actually away from his family for seven months.
“Clearly that is very, very tough but great sacrifices bring great rewards.”