Team USA Women’s Olympic Preview
Best of luck to the Team USA Women in RIO! Bring home the gold! USA Sevens Rugby
Posted by USA Sevens Rugby on Friday, August 5, 2016
For the first time since May 18, 1924, the odd-shaped ball will be used in the Olympics. In a fitting reminder of how the world has progressed in the last 92 years, the honor of bringing the sport back is in the hands of the French and Spanish women who will take the pitch at 10:00 am (ET) on Saturday (August 6). It will be the first time that women have competed in rugby at the Olympics.
Women’s Competition: August 6–8
Even casual fans of American women’s rugby should remember the initial success at the dawn of the Women’s Rugby World Cup, with the United States winning the initial competition (1991) and finishing runner-up in the next two competitions (1994 & 1998). The Americans also finished third in both Women’s Sevens Rugby World Cup competitions (2009 & 2013).
Since then, in both XVs and 7s, the world has caught up and largely surpassed the Americans. This past year was tumultuous, including the dismissal of head coach Ric Suggitt in September and dismissal of his replacement Jules McCoy in March.
Even two years ago, when the Olympic qualification process was announced, it seemed that the women would pose a much better threat to winning gold than the American men. With the internal problems, it now seems like the women may struggle to make the podium. On the five-stop Women’s Sevens World Series, the Americans struggled to finish sixth overall on the back of extremely inconsistent showings. The season began in December by finishing one spot above last place in Dubai, but the next stop, in Brazil, was a third-place finish, followed by a plate victory in Atlanta.
Nevertheless, there is certainly reason to be optimistic. Twice competing as the USA Falcons in invitational competitions at the Las Vegas Invitational in March and the London Invitational in May, the Americans impressed. In Vegas, they only allowed one try in their first four matches, including wins over a Brazilian and South African side, but were hammered by France in the semifinal. In London, the team went 6–0 with wins over developmental sides from Brazil, Canada, England, France, Japan, and Spain. Nine of the twelve players selected for Rio were on the victorious London squad; ten were on the team that fell in a close match to France later that month in the plate final of the last stop of the Sevens World Series.
Another good reason to be optimistic is that the Americans have selected a strong squad in Jillion Potter, Kelly Griffin, Kathryn Johnson, Alev Kelter, Bui Baravilala, Lauren Doyle, Victoria Folayan, Carmen Farmer, Joanne Fa’avesi, Richelle Stephens, Ryan Carlyle, Jessica Javelet.
The Americans should be expected to reach the quarterfinal. They are slotted as the second seed in Pool A along with Australia, Fiji, and Colombia. Like the men’s competition, there are twelve teams split among three pools with the top two from each pool advancing to the quarterfinals along with the top two third-place finishers. Importantly, the bottom of Pool A includes Colombia. In its lone appearance on the Sevens World Series, in Atlanta, Colombia went 0–5 suffering blowout loses to Fiji (41–7), Australia (34–0), and England (45–0). The Americans should look to replicate that effort against Colombia. Last year’s NACRA qualifier proved that the Americans are capable of dominating inferior opponents. A dominant win over Colombia is important, because the third-place team left out will likely be decided on points differential. With relative parity between Brazil and Japan in Pool C, along with a large gap in talent between those two nations and the top seeds of Pool C, Canada and Great Britain, it is likely that the Pool C third-place team will be the one left out.
Australia will be the strong favorite to beat the Americans, but is not invincible. More realistically, the Americans will look to beat Fiji. After a tough loss to Fiji in Dubai (24–19), the Americans have won three in a row: 38–0 in Atlanta, 24–12 in Canada, and 14–12 in France.
The favorites to medal in the women’s competition will be 2015–16 World Series champion Australia, three-time series champion and defending Sevens World Cup champion New Zealand, 2016 France Women’s Sevens champion Canada, and team Great Britain, composed largely of players from the 2016 Canada Women’s Sevens champion England. The Americans have a puncher’s chance, but will need to find some magic.