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TOKYO (Reuters) - United States co-captain Abby Gustaitis believes a change in culture within the side has led to improvements on the pitch as the team prepare to open their Tokyo Olympics women’s Sevens Rugby campaign against China the next week.
The U.S. finished fifth in Rio de Janeiro five years ago, but are going for gold this time round after several strong showings in the 2018-19 World Rugby Sevens Series season that culminated in them finishing second. They then finished fifth in 2019-20 before the COVID-19 pandemic put the competition on hold.
"We've really focused inward on ourselves and tried to build a strong foundation that goes beyond the 12 (players) that are in the team,” Gustaitis told reporters on Friday.
"We have had young players coming in and we wanted to focus on the strong connection we have off the pitch, which has definitely led to our better performances on the field."
Coach Chris Brown took over the team in 2018 and appears to have had an immediate impact.
"He's really brought in a lot of rugby knowledge, which has allowed us to elevate our game and compete for those podium positions," Gustaitis said.
The U.S. skipper is engaged to former England international prop Alex Corbisiero, and joked there are benefits to a partner who understands the game.
"But you can't always just take their advice, I don't want to hear that. I appreciate the support and the cooking though," she said with a smile.
After their opener against China on Thursday, the U.S. will face hosts Japan and Australia in Pool C.
(Reporting by Mayu Sakoda; Editing by Toby Davis)