Tuesday produced a scintillating day of rugby as the Olympic Men’s Rugby Sevens tournament began with a bang.
Fiji stressed their credentials as tournament favourites, Kenya endured a disappointing day and Japan produced one of the shocks of the entire Olympics so far.
Australia 14-31 France (Pool B)
A Terry Bouhraoua -inspired France survived a ferocious second-half Australian comeback to emerge triumphant in the first game of Men’s Rugby Sevens at the Olympic Games.
Captain Bouhraoua produced a starring turn, scoring all seventeen of the game’s first-half points with two tries and an excellent penalty to end the half.
And although Australian responded with aplomb after the interval with tries from Jesse Parahi and Ed Jenkins reducing the deficit to 17-14, France’s superior conditioning proved decisive, Manoel Dalligna capitalising on an exhausted Australian defence to restore the lead before Bouhraoua scored a superb individual effort to close out the game.
South Africa 24-0 Spain (Pool B)
There was not to be a similar upset in Pool B’s other opening game as South Africa comprehensively defeated a valiant Spain, 24-0
In a game pitting the tournament’s second seed vs its eleventh, the relative inexperience of Les Leones was exploited by the Blitzboks who ran four tries for a comfortable victory.
Building off a clear ascendancy at the breakdown, Cecil Africa grabbed a brace for South Africa thanks to some quick feet and a surging change-of-pace, whilst Seabelo Senatia and Philip Snyman capitalised on Spanish turnovers to join the former on the scoreboard.
Great Britain 31-7 Kenya (Pool C)
Great Britain got off to an ideal start at the 2016 Rio Olympics with a five-try victory over Kenya.
An early try from Dan Norton that saw the flyer speed down the touchline from 50m out set the tone for an impressive triumph with Phil Burgess, Dan Bibby and Mark Bennett also crossing in a dominant first-half display.
Billy Odhiambo replied early in the second half for Kenya as the East Africans attempted mount a comeback but ultimately it was to be in vain as a clinical defensive display from the British, coupled with a second try for the impressive Bibby secured a comfortable win.
New Zealand 12-14 Japan (Pool C)
Japan produced arguably the shock of the entire 2016 Olympic Tournament so far on Tuesday, beating heavily-favoured New Zealand 14-12 in a thriller at the Deodoro Stadium.
With more than a shade of their 34–32 victory over South Africa at the 2015 Rugby World Cup in their performance, the Brave Blossoms took a deserved early lead through Teruya Goto following a spell of pressure in the All Blacks’ 22.
Inspired by Akira Ioane who was superb throughout, the largely mis-firing New Zealand side responded with a try either side of half-time, first from Scott Curry and then from Ioane, as normalcy looked set to resume with the All Blacks slowly clicking into gear.
However, the Japanese refused to roll over and Kameli Soejima’s powerful effort converted by Sakai Katsuyuki prompted a nail-biting final two minutes – elongated by a serious injury to Joe Webber - with the Japanese producing wave after wave of heroic defence to eventually close out a historic win.
United States 14-12 Argentina (Pool A)
Matia Moroni’s try with the final play of the game ensured Argentina survived a plethora of controversy to defeat the United States 17-14 in Pool C.
With both sides already down to six men late in the second-half, Juan Imhoff was sin-binned, and a penalty try awarded, for an adjudged high tackle that denied the USA’s Zach Test a try in the corner. With the USA bolstering six men to Argentina’s five, Danny Barrett punched his way over to give the Eagles a slender 14-12 lead that looked set to deny Argentina a deserved victory.
However with the game’s final play, Moroni (who himself had been sin-binned earlier) gathered a loose pass following sustained pressure to cross in the corner and prevent Argentina’s tournament opener being ruined by some dubious officiating from Craig Joubert.
Axel Muller and Fernando Luna both crossed the whitewash in the first-half as the Pumas also survived a yellow card to Santiago Alvarez to eventually emerge victorious.
Fiji 40-6 Brazil (Pool A)
A spirited performance from the tournament hosts was not enough as tournament favourites Fiji laid down a marker as they began their search for a first Olympic medal with a 40-6 win over Brazil.
Despite Fiji’s heavily-favoured status coming into Tuesday’s encounter, it was Brazil – much to the delight of the Deodoro crowd – who struck first, showing a series of intricate passages of play to eventually send Felipe Claro in the corner.
However, the Fijians struck back almost immediately, Jasa Veremalua’s mazy run through the Brazilian defence culminating in a seven-point touchdown under the posts. A further spate of valiant defence from Brazil kept the deficit at only two points at the half-time interval despit the Fijian ascendancy beginning to show.
Bolstered by a half-time reading of the Riot Act by Ben Ryan, the second-half saw Fiji run rampant. A series of perfectly weighted restarts ensured Fiji enjoyed near universal possession with Osea Kolinisau, Josua Tuisova (x2), Samisoni Virivir and Veremalua the beneficiaries of the trademark Fijian ball-handling, off-loading and powerful running.
Brazil were to have the final say however, Gustavo Albuquerque running in under the posts to give the raucous crowd a second reason to cheer.
Australia 26-14 Spain (Pool B)
Australia survived a first-half scare to record their first victory of the Olympic tournament, defeating Spain 26-14 to commence Tuesday’s afternoon session.
The Wallabies got off to a perfect start with Cameron Clark collecting a bobbling ball straight from the opening kickoff before a Marcos Poggi brace – both times the result of Australian mistakes - gave Spain a shock lead.
However, Jesse Parahi’s touchline score just before half-time restored the Wallabies lead, and the Australians’ superior ball-playing ability became evident as the second-half progressed, clinically adding two additional tries through John Porch and Con Foley as Spain faltered late on.
South Africa 26-0 France (Pool B)
South Africa made it a perfect two-for-two on the day with a comprehensive 26–0 victory over France to reaffirm their status as one of the tournament favourites.
With Cecil Africa and the Snyman-Smith-Brown forward axis running the show in decisive for the Blitzboks, Justin Geduld, Kwagga Smith (a superb length-of-the-field effort) and Kyle Brown all crossed in an empathic 19-point first-half performance.
In truth, the game as a contest had been decided by half-time and the game slowed dramatically in the second-seven. However, there was still enough time for the South Africans to add a fourth try, Dylan Sage going over after a surging touchline run through two French defenders.
Great Britain 21-19 Japan (Pool C)
A missed Katsuyuki Sakai conversion with the last kick of the game handed Team GB a narrow 21-19 win in a thrilling encounter on Tuesday evening.
Marcus Watson’s outstanding individual try appeared to have handed Team GB a close victory over a combative Japanese side – who had already beaten New Zealand earlier in the day.
However with the clock dead, the outstanding Lomano Lemeki grabbed his second try of the game to bring the score to within two, only for Sakai to miss the game-tying kick.
In a back and forth game, a James Rodwell double either side of Lemeki’s first try had handed GB a narrow 14-7 lead at half-time.
But Sakai grabbed a try of his own to set up a nail-biting finale that ultimately fell the way of the British.
New Zealand 28-5 Kenya (Pool C)
Having been upset by Japan earlier in the day, New Zealand got their Olympic 7s campaign back on track with a hard-fought 28-5 win over Kenya.
Yet it was Kenya who struck first through Sevens Series all-time top scorer Collins Injere who lost his man with an impressive turn of pace before going over in the corner.
And Injere was involved in the game’s next score – albeit on the wrong side. For the second time on the day, a dubious penalty try was awarded after a high-tackle was adjudged to have been used in the process of preventing a try; this time it was Injere who was sin-binned for his tackle on Scott Curry.
The outstanding Akira Ioane found himself on the scoresheet once again to extend the Kiwi lead at half-time.
From there New Zealand were in cruise control, Augustine Pulu slicing through the Kenyan defence to extend the lead before Gillies Kaka selflessly allowed Lewis Ormond to touch down under the posts after Kaka had coasted over the tryline.
United States 26-0 Brazil (Pool A)
The United States rebounded from their earlier defeat at the hands of Argentina to record 26-0 victory over a battling Brazilian team.
In what was to be a scrappy and disjointed game, especially in the second half, first-half scores resulting from powerful runs from Folau Niua and ex-NFL player Nate Ebner ensured the Eagles were able to keep the host nation at arm’s length for the majority of the contest.
With both sides tiring, the second-half rapidly devolved into an error-ridden affair although two moments of magic extended the American lead to 26 points – first Carlin Isles showed his trademark pace, running round his defender to dot down in the corner before Maka Unufe powered over with the game’s final play.
Fiji 21-14 Argentina (Pool A)
Fiji survived a significant scare from Argentina to narrowly overcome the Pumas 21-14, in an exciting end to the day’s action at the Deodoro Stadium.
In a clash pitting a clear contrast of styles – Argentina’s combative physicality versus the Fijian’s flowing ball-playing – it was Kitione Taliga’s late brace that would prove decisive, facilitating a Fijian comeback from 14-7 down with less than four minutes remaining.
A thundering run from Josua Tuisova had given Fiji an early lead before a scintillating run from Fernando Luna created the space for Franco Sabato to run in unopposed.
And the Pumas struck again shortly after half-time, a mazy run from Gaston Revol cut throught he Fijian defence before a deft off-load found Santiago Alvarez who dived over to threaten the second significant upset of the day.
However, Taliga was to put Fiji squarely on his back and the diminutive winger flew down the right touchline past Axel Muller to tie the game (in part down to a perfect touchline conversion from Osea Kolinisau) before receiving an incredible off-load from Jasa Veremalua to scamper clear for the winning score.
Team of the Day: