UPDATE: Day Two
It has been a very busy and exciting week for the world champions but, as they have been trained to do, it was all taken in their collective stride and kept in perspective.
One of the big thrills of the week was not about the exotic surrounds in which they find themselves, but about the surprise jersey presentations.
The players’ family members, who are in Rio to support their girls, were front and centre for the honour - a nice touch organised by the coaching staff as a special treat.
The team did however have some cause for initial concern leading up to the opening day’s play - with a small doubt over the fitness of key playmaker Emilee Cherry.
The former International Player of the Year (2014) had felt a ‘niggle’ in her hamstring in training on Thursday.
With concerns over her fitness just 48 hours out from the opening game against Columbia, coach Tim Walsh hinted at the possibility of leaving her out and calling on one of two emergency players that accompanied the squad to Rio.
That was on Thursday.
Fortunately, Cherry got through a fitness test on Friday with little trouble and by late in the day, Walsh seemed far more positive about her prospects.
While he has worked hard to make sure this team is multi-skilled and positions and roles are interchangeable, there is no doubt that the loss of Cherry would not have been ideal.
The team had unanimously decided not to take part in the Opening Ceremony parade and related festivities late on Friday night in an obvious effort to conserve energy for the opening day’s group matches on Saturday.
The excitement was palpable
And so it began – the history making fixture that has Rugby Sevens making its debut as an Olympic sport.
The opening game saw many moments hailed as historic.
The big surprise of the day was perhaps Fiji over USA, even though it was eighth v sixth (respectively) according to the world standings.
Fijiana surprised its opponents showing improved skill levels since the World Series and the sheer enthusiasm with which they played in that first game.
This is why the match against Australia was not perhaps what fans were expecting, with Fiji having an error-laden game of which the Aussies took full advantage - it also underlined what an important result that first up win was for the Pacific islanders.
While the score-line was not what anyone anticipated, the prospects of both Australia and Fiji losing their final games of the group round are remote – at least on paper.
This will give Fiji a much sought after place in the quarter finals – something the Aussies have already secured.
New fans need to be patient
For those new to the game it may have looked somewhat lopsided in skill level and all too simple for the powerhouse teams of the sport.
Olympic organisers and World Rugby will therefore be hoping for more fierce contests as the fixture gets into the finals stage and out of the Pool group games.
But this is currently one of the world’s fastest growing sports for women and is going through a massive development period for those nations not perhaps historically to the fore of Rugby as a football code.
The beauty of the Olympics is that it has given these teams the platform on which to measure themselves against the top opponents and on which to show their passion for this sport to the world.
Those who impressed!
Charlotte Caslick has had an outstanding start to the tournament with four tries to her name on day one for the Aussies.
Likewise, World Rugby’s current International Player of the Year – New Zealand’s Portia Woodman.
With familiar names on the world circuit like Watmore and Wilson-Hardy strutting their stuff, one of the highlights for the Great Britain team was the first try to Welsh player Jasmine Joyce – the only non-English player in the GB7s team.
While there were no serious injuries from the day, there was a significant one as far as French prospects are concerned.
Key player Shannon Izar sadly suffered a tournament ending injury in the opening game and will be replaced by Jess Tremouliere.
Despite a subdued day on the field for the host nation, the players – and their families – embraced the fun and excitement of having this sport on the biggest stage of all.
With top teams dominating the first day, the prospects for what is to come in tomorrow’s final group games plus the Cup quarter finals has certainly whet the appetite.
And while the Aussies lived up to expectations, the Kiwi women have certainly regained the slick form of previous seasons and look threatening.
What to expect from Day 2
With two out of three Pool games done for each team, the cream has to a great extent risen to the top but it now boils down to jockeying for positions at the top of the tables, so as to get an easier path through the quarters.
There are one or two results which will be of particular interest for those placed outside the Top 8.
Fiji needs to defeat Colombia while Australia should hold on for a clean sweep of Pool A with a win over USA. That will see the Fiji team progress through to a much desired quarter-finals berth.
While Brazil and Japan will be vying for a place on the World Series circuit and will therefore be looking for best possible results out of this tournament.
The beauty of Sevens is the excitement and often the fun of the game – even the refs have an interesting take on doing their jobs.
While the stands were not full to capacity there was rousing support for this popular sport that is debuting at these Olympic Games and for the women who play it.
We even have a ‘Dream Team’ from day 1, as the sun set on an historic first day.