The European Olympic qualifiers took place over the weekend in Colomiers and Kazan, as the men’s and women’s sevens teams from all over Europe contested for a guaranteed spot at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.
Following a disappointing season on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series for the England men, where they finished fifth in the standings and missed out on one of the automatic qualifying spots in the top four, they arrived at Colomiers in a pool alongside Germany, Georgia and Lithuania.
As for England women, they had a more positive series, improving on some of their recent efforts on the circuit, although it was still not enough to see them crack the ‘big four’ of New Zealand, USA, Canada and Australia. Their pool in Kazan consisted of Russia, Germany and Sweden.
Both sides had been selected to be the representatives for Team GB and victory at these tournaments would secure qualification for Tokyo 2020, whilst a 2nd or 3rd place finish would at least book them a place in the Repechage competition next year.
The men had little trouble traversing their pool on Saturday, racking up comfortable wins over Georgia and Germany, as well as putting Lithuania to the sword with a 40-0 scoreline, setting themselves up with a quarter-final against Italy.
Day 1 is already over at the #Colomiers7s as @FranceRugby, @ferugby and @EnglandRugby finish first of their pools for #DestinationTokyo
Here is the QFs programme for the #Men7Qualifier DAY 2 – KO at 11am CEST and all games live on https://t.co/lQ3qnMUZ6M pic.twitter.com/kTJdAqiyH3
— Rugby Europe (@rugby_europe) July 13, 2019
The women’s journey wasn’t quite so simple, as they lost 26-5 in their final pool match to Russia, although they secured a quarter-final against Ireland thanks to substantial wins against Sweden and Germany.
The qualifying tournaments resumed on Sunday, with the men cruising to a 35-0 win over Italy, whilst the women came back from an early deficit to register a 17-7 win over Ireland.
It left the women with a semi-final against France, who had also failed to qualify automatically for the Olympics on the Series earlier in the year, whilst the men had to face off with Portugal, who had upset Spain in their quarter-final.
In Kazan, England vs France certainly delivered a tight and compelling contest, with some strong English counter-rucking from Helena Rowland winning a turnover at the death and allowing Team GB’s selected representative to escape with a 14-12 win and a ticket to the final to play Russia, who had beaten them the day before in the pool stage.
In Colomiers, the men took the momentum from their win over Italy and quickly established a significant lead against Portugal, with Dan Norton and Mike Ellery among the first half scorers. England emerged victorious, 29-12, in a game that took their tally to 24 tries scored and just three conceded at the tournament, as well as booking them a final against France.
As finalists, both the men and women had a shot to secure qualification for Tokyo, whilst losses would not end their Olympic dreams, as second-placed finishes would see them both enter the Repechage next year.
England women were first up with an earlier kickoff in their final and they cantered to a 19-0 win over Russia, courtesy of tries from Heather Fisher, Emma Uren and Alex Matthews. Unable to unlock England’s impressive defence, the loss condemned Russia, along with third-placed France, to the Repechage in 2020.
Congratulations to @EnglandRugby #winner of the #RugbyEurope #Women #Sevens #Qualifier in #Kazan7s !
Thanks to this victory, @TeamGB is qualified for @Tokyo2020 @Olympics ! ????
Credit : Anastasia Osipova / Rugby Europe pic.twitter.com/vuxEl4KGJY
— Rugby Europe (@rugby_europe) July 14, 2019
The England men, meanwhile, raced into a 21-7 half-time lead over France thanks to a hat-trick of tries from Norton. France pressed hard after the interval but it was not enough to reel England in, who added a score through Ollie Lindsay-Hague and finished with a 31-7 scoreline over their hosts. France and third-placed Ireland will now enter the Repechage.
Team GB women will now be able to build towards bettering their fourth-place finish at the 2016 Olympics without the distraction of the Repechage, whilst the men’s side will be back to defend their silver medal from Rio and attempt to go one rung further up the ladder in Tokyo.
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