Having secured a place in the last 4, the test for Team GB was now to secure a spot in the final and a guaranteed medal. There’s nothing worse than being in the last 4 with only 3 prizes up for grabs.
First up was South Africa, who along with Fiji had probably looked the strongest of the pre-tournament favourites. Team GB had powered this far on the strength of their defensive performances, shackling their opposition and scoring when rare opportunities presented themselves. But South Africa posed a very real threat at the breakdown (coached by our own Richie Gray, of course) and pace throughout their side including the potent Cecil Afrika. If Team GB found themselves in, well, an actual high-scoring game of Sevens they’d be in trouble with what has so far seemed like a fairly simple game plan against the multiple threats of the Blitzbokke.
The score was 5-0 to South Africa at half time, which for Team GB seemed like a good result as the Bokke had come close on a number of occasions, and once again very well timed tackling had kept them from scoring more. On Scotwatch(TM), Mark Robertson got more game time but little with the ball. Mark Bennett again had some good runs, but like Dan Bibby often finds himself directed into heavy traffic when their quick feet become less effective. Ironically it’s a role that would have ideally suited the power and breakdown technique of Scott Riddell, but Bennett has performed well and Glasgow and Scotland fans will be delighted to see him dancing through tackles again.
Having secured the try they wanted through some excellent buildup work from James Davies, who is also having a stormer, Great Britain tried holding on to that precarious two point lead and almost came unstuck when Marcus Watson hoofed it upfield and it sliced into touch right on the hooter. That gave South Africa one last chance to attack, but once again Simon Amor’s men held them at bay before a turnover allowed Bibby to hoof it into touch and send Team GB to the final against the mightily impressive Fiji.
Fiji were hunting their first ever Olympic medal as a country, never mind the sport; the arrival of Sevens in the Olympics gives them a chance to create a dynasty of Olympic glory especially if they can unearth female players at the same rate as talent arises on the male side.
Shackling Fiji would be tricky, and one hoped that Team GB might try to actually play a bit more rugby rather than try and mute the Islanders effectiveness – but even so, you can’t out Fiji Fiji so it was a tricky final in prospect for Amor as a tactician.
Sure enough Fiji and big Leone Nakarawa came out of the blocks firing – running everything, offloading everything and they had three tries inside the opening 7 minutes – never mind that it was ten minutes a half . They were, like Nakarawa at his best, nigh on unplayable and the score at the break was 29-0 to the delight of the travelling Fijian fans.
The bench got some time in the second half which was justly deserved, with the silver medal all but in the bag and not much but pride left on the table. They even scored a try superbly converted by Norton from the touchline, but that was the most they made of slender possession.
A silver medal given the scratch nature of the British side and the time they had to gel is a very good result. While you could argue about the balance of the side until the cows come home, the squad that travelled did very well to reach the Gold medal final, and achieved beyond the expectations of most. Congratulations to Mark Bennett and Mark Robertson who acquitted themselves well and can proudly say they are Olympic silver medallists.
With a final score of 43-7, there remains a lasting suspicion that on the night, no side in world sevens could have kept Fiji from their destiny.