Rugby Sevens at the 2016 Summer Olympics

Dates 6 – 11 August 2016
Medal Events 2

After a gap of 92 years the sport of rugby union returned to the Olympic fold at the Rio Olympics in the form of 12 team rugby sevens tournaments for men and women. The reintroduction of the sport to the Olympic Games came as a result of a 20-year campaign by World Rugby, the international governing body that reached a culmination at the 2009 IOC session in København, Denmark where the sport, as well as golf, was voted into the Olympic programme. The main contenders for the men’s tournament were world champions New Zealand and Fiji who had won the World Sevens Series for the last years. Perennial runners-up South Africa were also earmarked for medal contention whilst Great Britain, despite only coming together as a combined team for a few months before the Games, could pick from 4th ranked England, 2009 world champions Wales and a Scotland team that had won the last World Series tournament of the 2015-16 season.

The format used saw 12 teams involved in both men’s and women’s tournaments divided into three pools each containing four teams. The top two teams in each pool were joined in the quarter-finals by the two third place teams with the best records. In the women’s tournament New Zealand also arrived as world champions but their form had been eclipsed in recent times by Australia who had won 4 of the last 6 tournaments on the World Sevens Series. The other two had been won by Canada and England. Both would also be considered as medal contenders in Rio, although England would play under the Great Britain tag with a lone Welshwoman (but no Scots) added to their squad. France and the United States appeared to be teams that could come into contention if others faltered.

So at 11am on August 6, 2016 rugby finally re-entered the Olympic Games when Spain’s Patricia Garcia took the kick off in their game against France. The pool stages and quarter finals largely went as expected, although New Zealand had to battle hard to turn back the challenge of the Americans in order to reach the semi-finals. The New Zealanders had less trouble defeating Great Britain to reach the final and their expected showdown with the Australians, who had eliminated Canada in their own semi-final. New Zealand scored first in the final but it proved a false dawn for the Kiwis and Australia went on a run of scoring that took them a 24 -7 lead. A fightback from New Zealand took them to within 7 points of their opponents but time ran out with Australia confirmed as the first Olympic women’s rugby champion. Canada avenged a pool stage defeat to Great Britain to win the bronze medal match.

If the women’s tournament had panned out in roughly in the way experts had predicted, then the same could not be said for the men’s equivalent event. A stunning upset victory by Japan sent world champions New Zealand scrambling for a quarter-final place, which they only eventually obtained via the wildcard third place qualification. Fiji and Great Britain recorded perfect records to top their pools with South Africa winning a closely contested Group B. These results saw the expected final instead take place in the quarter-finals with the world champions from New Zealand being eliminated by favourites Fiji in a hard fought contest. Joining the South Sea islanders in the last four were the British, South Africans and the surprise team, Japan. Fiji ended Japanese’s hopes with little bother but the other semi-final was an epic of defensive play that saw Great Britain overcome South Africa by 7 to 5.

The final saw the country where the sport was invented facing the nation that had appropriated the sevens version of the game as its own. It was the latter who emerged triumphant with a glittering display of rugby. The Fijians ripped through the British defence time after time and recorded 29 unanswered points in the first half of the game. The game concluded 43-7 in favour of the team from the Pacific. This was Fiji’s first ever Olympic medal after 64 years of competition and was greeted with a public holiday on their home islands.

The tournament was held in a temporary stadium at the Deodoro Modern Pentathlon Park, which replaced the proposed venue at Estádio São Januário, the home of Vasco Da Gama Football Club.


Event Status Date Participants NOCs
Rugby Sevens, Men Olympic 9 – 11 August 2016 151 12
Rugby Sevens, Women Olympic 6 – 8 August 2016 148 12
299 (151/148) 14 (12/12)


Event Gold Silver Bronze
Rugby Sevens, Men FijiFIJ Great BritainGBR South AfricaRSA
Rugby Sevens, Women AustraliaAUS New ZealandNZL CanadaCAN

Medal table

NOC Gold Silver Bronze Total
Australia AUS 1 0 0 1
Fiji FIJ 1 0 0 1
Great Britain GBR 0 1 0 1
New Zealand NZL 0 1 0 1
Canada CAN 0 0 1 1
South Africa RSA 0 0 1 1