Rugby in Nanjing: Australia and France take top honours as rugby returns to the Olympic stage
Ninety years after being for the last time on the Olympic programme, rugby returned to the Olympic stage in Nanjing in preparation for Rio 2016.
Australia became the first team to take Olympic rugby gold since 1924 as their women’s team made their way seamlessly through the rugby sevens tournament.
In the men’s competition it was France who emerged victorious, overcoming Argentina in the final.
The rugby sevens took place from 17 to 20 August at the Youth Olympic Sports Park Rugby Field. Both the men’s and women’s competitions featured six teams (144 players in total, 72 men and 72 women) who played in a single pool with a round robin format. The teams played two games a day, with each one comprising two seven-minute halves with a two-minute break in between.
The four top-placed teams progressed to the semi-finals. The last four in the women’s competition were Australia, China, the USA and Canada, while in the men’s it was Argentina, France, Fiji and Kenya. For the finals and third-place playoffs each half was increased to ten minutes in length.
While the Australian women proceeded with relative ease through the competition, winning each match and conceding only 27 points in the whole tournament, the French men had to suffer the scare of an opening match defeat, 19-7 to Argentina, before regrouping to win the rest of their group matches.
In the semi-finals of the women’s competition Australia beat the USA 33-0 and Canada dominated against China, winning 38-10. In the men’s, France got the better of Fiji, winning 34-12, while Argentina beat Kenya 19-12.
Going for gold
On 20 August, the Australian women ran away with the second half of the final against Canada to end up posting an imposing 38-10 win.
Meanwhile, the French men got their revenge over Argentina, scoring three tries to nil in the last four minutes of the match to win 45-22.
“We knew that we were just about to make history whether we it was silver or gold but we were just so hungry for that gold! We’ve just made history, it’s amazing!” said Tiana Penitani, Australia’s co-captain.
Dominique du Toit scored three tries for the Aussies. “I never even dreamed of scoring a hat trick,” she said. “We knew that the Canadians were really strong. We’re not the biggest players but we can count on our speed and skill.”
The In the men’s competition, the French went into their final against Argentina braced for a tough contest. “After our victory over Fiji in the semis, we knew that the final would be a big one. We had to give everything – our bodies, our lives, absolutely everything!” said France’s Arthur Retière.
“We wanted to get our revenge since we lost the first match and we knew that we could do it. Now that we’ve done it, it’s time to celebrate!” he added.
Before the finals the third-place play-offs saw Fiji and China claim bronze medals after two very tight matches.
Fiji avenged their defeat to Kenya in the pool matches, this time winning 12-0. In the women’s competition, while Chinese prevailed over the USA by the same scoreline in the men’s competition to give the home crowd plenty to cheer.