Day Two could not have been more different than Day One at the Deodoro Stadium – home of the Rugby Sevens competition at these Olympics. Yet by the end of the day it all seemed to have finished as expected – for most anyway.
Out of the morning session on Day two – two games stuck out for their shock value.
Where Day One had ultimately been fairly predictable in where the dominance emerged from the top teams, Day Two was being anticipated for some interesting contests in the remainder of the Pool matches.
The pick of these was the battle between Canada and Great Britain – the teams ranked third and fourth respectively in the world rankings (if you accept GB is virtually the England team). This match-up was being touted as the likely Bronze medal game on the final day.
Given the GB team was the least dominant of the top four on Day one, then what it produced to take down Canada and secure the top spot in their shared Pool, left mouths open and opposition stress levels rising as the Brits kept Canada scoreless while laying down four tries of their own.
The other match which had brows sweating was the World Champions taking on the USA in the last match of the morning session – easily considered by most pundits to be ‘a bit of a given’ in terms of the result. But nobody watching expected the reality check handed out by the Americans – least of all the Australians.
Initial alarm bells rang within the first minute of the game when star player Ellia Green was taken across the sideline in a brutal tackle that left her looking dazed.
As a sign of the calibre of the champion team they are, the Aussies salvaged a draw on the last play of the game, which secured the top spot in Pool A – always the plan – but very much shook the confidence tree within the team camp and out in the broader support network of fans.
What are you playing for if not for a medal?
Before all this drama unfolded however, a smaller one was being played out, because the thing about Rugby Sevens is it is never just about finishing on top.
With the final round of the group matches that started the day, the ‘minnows’ or developing nations in terms of Sevens, were the first to take to the field of battle.
But this was not just a matter of jostling for spots as the ‘also rans’ in each group.
These teams are realistic in their expectations but have other prizes to play for in following their passion for this sport.
Since Rugby Sevens was named as an Olympic debutante, countries which have not had it as a key sport have put major time, effort and especially money into developing women’s programs and teams.
But now the goal to be part of this massive sporting event has been reached, what happens to these programs and teams after the dust settles?
Spain, for instance, was the last team to qualify for Rio, taking what most considered to be a surprise win over Russia, in the repechage tournament in June.
So, realistically the achievement lay in making it to the Olympics, with the chance of a podium finish always a possibility in Sevens, even if perhaps more of an improbability in this case.
But Spain, along with several of the ‘minnow’ teams, also had other prizes to play for.
The teams which finish in the bottom four of the tournament will play for the Bowl.
The winner of the Bowl in Rio will secure a place in the 2016/2017 World Series – this is their golden prize.
Spain needed to finish third in its Pool - and one of the two best third places – thus making it into the quarter finals or the funding for its Olympic Sevens program at home would be withdrawn.
Japan needed to defeat Kenya to keep its quarter finals hopes alive and knock Spain out of the running, but it had to be by a very large margin.
Brazil – a very new team – had been given time on last season’s World Series circuit by virtue of being the Olympic host nation and therefore an automatic qualifier for this event. But if it wanted to retain a spot at the big table, then it too would have to secure that quarter final berth with a good third placing at the end of the group stage.
Now none of these three contenders had scored a win on Day one – unlike the USA team which had its own battle with Fiji going to see which would get the numbers two and three spots in Pool A – so really Japan, Brazil, Spain and Kenya were all after just the one spot. Has there ever been such a fuss over a third place group ranking?
As it turned out Spain succeeded with a win over Kenya and progressed to the quarter finals capping off what has been a dream-filled few months and keeping their development towards the Tokyo 2020 a reality, while Brazil kept Japan winless over the three sessions of Pool play.
And then there were four!
With Brazil to take on Japan for the Bowl title honours after dominant wins by both in their 9th place semi-finals all eyes turned to the Medal quarter finals: would Fiji have their fairy-tale finish to the second day and would Canada be able to regain some confidence after the drubbing it received earlier?
By the close of play, as the sun went down on a warm Rio evening, everyone watching took a collective deep breath and contemplated what they had witnessed that day - and then perhaps wondered what all the fuss had been about.
The GB team had dashed the hopes of the sentimental favorite Fiji and of them having a chance to secure the Pacific nation’s first Olympic medal.
And Australia had pleasingly taken the shock of that close call with the USA, filed it away in the drawer marked ‘lessons learned’, and proceeded to overrun a valiant Spain with Charlotte Caslick again adding to her outstanding performances from Day One.
The Medal semi-finalists for Day Three have been decided and there were no real surprises. The top four teams in the world will be the four teams vying for podium honours and jostling to climb onto the highest step and receive the shiniest medal.
And these will no doubt be some of faces to look out for tomorrow as they try to help their team achieve this goal.