What can I say – it’s been a big three days but the results are in.
Australia has won the Gold medal in Rugby Sevens.
Having followed the pathway of this Australian Sevens team for the past two years I became quite emotional when all was said and done at Deodoro Stadium at the conclusion of the Women’s tournament.
I’m almost stuck for words – which is very unlike me and will not help with writing this article.
So here goes.
The Australian Women’s Rugby Sevens team has fulfilled the dream of winning gold at the 2016 Olympic Games – the first to do so in Rugby Sevens.
Nothing can change that – they have now etched their names, their team and the game they love in the pages of sporting history.
The Final – as it was perhaps always going to be scripted – saw a rivalry played out which has grown since the sport was officially launched on the world stage in late 2012 and in more recent years has dominated Rugby Sevens.
Australia and New Zealand took to the Deodoro pitch in front of a crowd filled with families, friends, fans and the world media.
These two teams had played 13 times before today - the Aussies having the upper hand with a win record of eight victories - now nine.
The Kiwis had dominated Women’s Sevens since the introduction of the World Series in 2012/2013 – taking the first three titles – but that all changed this year when the Australians won three of the five tournaments and secured the title, with the New Zealanders finishing second in the world standings.
For those who follow Rugby sevens the first lesson you learn is that the game is never over until it’s over. Tries can be scored within seconds of a game finishing and even the smallest handling error will give the opposition the upper hand and generally be very costly.
With two ten minute halves to play – finals are always 20 minutes and not the usual 14 minutes in duration – the first try to Kayla McAlister was no surprise and only a little concerning for the Australians.
The overall tone of the match must be assessed as that of great defence. Strong and fierce tackling from both teams saw the Kiwis initially contain the Aussies early in the first half but by half time the battle lines had been well and truly drawn with Australia scoring a try to edge into the lead two tries to one.
The second half continued in the same vein although once the Australians created any space, they capitalised, with Green and Caslick adding to the earlier tries of Tonegato and Pelite.
Debate will probably always rage about what significance the yellow card given to Portia Woodman just before half time had on the early part of the second half, but that would be to undervalue her team mates and the calibre of the New Zealand sevens squad.
The game was played at a fast and furious pace with the intensity of the tackling a key for both teams.
Even as the Australians seemed to get the upper hand, history has taught us the game is not finished until the referee blows the whistle and declares it to be so.
Australia took the big prize and although the Kiwis were devastated at the missed opportunity they nevertheless will leave Rio with silver medals, having been a part of history and adding to a rivalry they will no doubt take into Round One in Dubai in December as a new Series kicks off and a new era in Women’s Rugby dawns.
Surprisingly this wasn’t the only match played today
The early playoff games and semi-finals which saw teams battle it out for 5th to 12th place probably revealed the Spanish as the ones who impressed, given they qualified through the mid-year repechage taking the 12th and final spot in the competition team list. So to finish 7th with a strong win over a battle-weary Fiji totally underlined their right to be a part of this historic tournament in Rio and to gain inclusion as a core team in the 2016/2017 World Series.
Fiji were of course not alone in the fatigue that struck by the last game, over what had been a gruelling three-day, six-game fixture with France also looking a little weary in their loss to the USA.
Australia surprised pundits with the final score line in its ultimately solid win over World #3 team Canada in the first semi-final.
This was even more the case between New Zealand and Great Britain, where expectations were of a close and fierce clash given the form the northerners had shown on Day Two. But the Kiwis showed just why it was they should never be underestimated.
So the stage was set as a reflection of the way the World Series finished in May, with the Canadians and the Brits (keeping in mind all of the GB team bar one, consisted of the England players) contesting 3rd and 4th place – although in this case 3rd place comes with a medal and a place on the podium.
The battle ensued and, for Great Britain, the result followed the form of the earlier semi – although they did not go down easily.
And so Canada had the honour of becoming the first team to win an Olympic medal in the sport of Rugby Sevens.
Those who impressed
The general concensus across world media and experts is that Charlotte Caslick nailed an almost perfect weekend for performance – impressing on each day.
But one of the messages so heavily pushed by Australia coach Tim Walsh and resoundingly supported by the team is that every player has a key role and the plan only works because of a strong team ethic.
— 7Olympics (@7olympics) August 9, 2016
The culture within this Australian team has also been much talked about, with its success often being attributed to the close relationships off the field enhancing those working relationships on the field.
Teams are bigger than 12 players
From all this it should be remembered that a team is not just the 12-player squad. Those on the sidelines who work tirelessly to coach, train, massage, feed and pretty much completely manage the team are also worthy of both appreciation and congratulations.
Tim Walsh, Scott Bowen and the team behind the team have all worked towards this day without fuss or drama constantly reiterating that the Sevens program at Narrabeen is process driven and as long as all the boxes are ticked, the results will take care of themselves.
With the hard work done, the fun began amid an onslaught of media commitments and calls – all of which were lapped up by the gold medal wearing victors as they took the chance to bask in the glory of what has been there hardest but most successful year to date.
There has also been the support that this team has gathered including their fellow Sevens Men’s team and their Olympic peers.
The introduction of Rugby Sevens, as it turns out, has been an inspiration for the sport and perhaps even for the Olympics which has recently strained under the debate around what sports are suitable for inclusion, both in format and in spirit, to underline the Olympic ideal and appeal.
The standard of play would have been everything the World Rugby and Olympic organisers would have wanted to see – a great advertisement for the game of Rugby Sevens and a reinforcement of the message that Women’s rugby is on the move as a major growth sport.
Ultimately, this is the picture that tells the story of Women’s Rugby at its first Olympics.
Oh yes and a Rugby Sevens tournament is never complete without the specially selected team of standout players.
Ladies and Gentlemen I give you your 2016 Rio Olympics Women’s Rugby Sevens Dream team.