Team GB's women's sevens beaten to Olympic bronze by fabulous Fijiana

·20 min read
Team GB will be disappointed to come away without a medal, but their very participation in the Games was only made possible by last minute funding - REUTERS
Team GB will be disappointed to come away without a medal, but their very participation in the Games was only made possible by last minute funding - REUTERS

The emotions could not have been more contrasting at the Tokyo Stadium as women's rugby sevens bronze medallists Fiji celebrated their nation's first female Olympic podium and Great Britain were left to rue what might have been.

The Fiji team, which included some players who only learnt to play the game in the last year and others who had never left the Pacific Island before, were worthy 21-12 winners. Alowesi Nakoci scored two first-half tries, with Reapi Ulunisau adding a breakaway score after the break.

But the British team had also been on their own journey, one principally brought about when the men and women's teams lost their funding in August on account of the Rugby Football Union cost-cutting measures to deal with the Covid disruption. It was only in December that a £2 million short-term deal with the National Lottery was agreed.

"Six months ago we had absolutely nothing. So to come out here and finish fourth, not a lot of people expected that," said Welsh player Jasmine Joyce.

"All of us keep saying how incredible the programme is. Even if we'd had an extra month, I can guarantee we would have won gold."

GB enjoyed some good phases of play at times, but Fiji were simply too quick and powerful to deny - Adam Davy/PA
GB enjoyed some good phases of play at times, but Fiji were simply too quick and powerful to deny - Adam Davy/PA

After a disappointing 26-19 semi-final defeat to eventual silver medallists France, Britain had to regroup for the bronze medal match later in the day. Megan Jones scored in either half but the Fijians were always in control, condemning Britain to a second successive Olympic fourth-place finish. New Zealand, meanwhile, beat France 26-12 to take gold, performing their own version of the Haka after the medal presentation.

Scott Forrest, Great Britain head coach, added: "I am disappointed for the players. We have spoken through this whole process about it being more than a medal, but I think all the players would appreciate something tangible for their efforts over the last six months."

National Lottery funding will continue until the end of the year, allowing Great Britain to play on the World Series circuit - if it goes ahead due to Covid - but after that the vision is less clear. Next year, with a Commonwealth Games in the summer, the emphasis would fall back on the individual home nations.

The future, however, appears bright for Fiji with the women's bronze making it three Olympic medals for the nation after their male counterparts successfully defended their title in Tokyo, "It was a tough, tough journey," said Fiji women's coach Fuli Saiasi, alluding to the last 16 weeks spent away from families and the convincing of some players not to run away from camp, plus more generally the heavy price paid on the island due to Covid and last year's devastating cyclone.

"This will influence the girls. We are here to empower, embrace and encourage."

The bronze medal makes the Fijiana the first women from their country to win a medal of any colour at the Olympic Games.  - REUTERS
The bronze medal makes the Fijiana the first women from their country to win a medal of any colour at the Olympic Games. - REUTERS

08:59 AM

Fijian history-makers

The Fijiana are the first women ever to win a medal of any colour at the Olympics for their country. Today's dominant display, preceded by a ferocious performance which pushed New Zealand to the limit, would suggest the future holds many more Olympic medals for Fiji's female superstars.

08:55 AM

FULL TIME: Fiji 21 - 12 GB

It's not to be for Team GB. They battled valiantly and put the Fijiana under a lot of pressure at times in front of their posts, but Fiji were just too good - particularly Nakoci who was lethal every time she got the ball.

Fiji win a richly deserved bronze medal, while Team GB's women go the way of the men and end their Olympic campaign in 4th place.

08:53 AM

14 mins

Fiji retain possession off the back of the scrum and only have to run down a few seconds of time before they can kick it into touch.

08:52 AM

13 mins

Fiji are up so quickly into the tackle and GB just can't handle the pressure. Natasha Hunt fumbles the ball on the wing and it's a Fiji scrum.

08:51 AM

Con. GB 12 - 21 Fiji

Hunt converts the try and whittles Fiji's lead down to 9 points with two minutes left to play.

08:50 AM

TRY GB

Megan Jones restores a little hope for GB after a good passage of play and some fast ball for the Brits. She jinks past two Fijiana before going in under the posts. A great effort from her, but Team GB have still got a lot to do with little time to do it.

08:49 AM

Con. Fiji 21 - 5 GB

Riwai kicks her third conversion and Fiji are minutes from a bronze medal.

08:48 AM

TRY FIJI

Fiji win a penalty on half way due to a GB offside, and all it takes is a couple of smart offloads and a beautiful running line from Reapi Ulunisau to take it all the way to the British line.

08:46 AM

9 mins

Fiji win a crushing scrum but are put under pressure following a sluggish offload. Team GB briefly turn the ball over but it's quickly knocked on. Another Fijian scrum.

08:45 AM

8 mins

Team GB scoop up the kick-off and immediately power over half way. Deborah Fleming does well to stay in touch as she's forced towads the right byline, before presenting the ball to Aitchison who goes back inside. GB continue to forge on but some excellent disruptive work at the breakdown by Fiji causes GB to give away a penalty.

08:43 AM

HALF TIME: Fiji 14 - 5 GB

The Brits are still in with a shout. Holly Aitchison missed the conversion, but Team GB have managed to make an impact right before half time. Fiji look far more dangerous, but when GB manage to maintain position and put Fiji under pressure, they are giving away plenty of penalties.

08:41 AM

TRY GB

Yes! Aitchison takes a quick tap penalty and spins it out right to Megan Jones, who drives on to touch down after the hooter! GB will now go into half time with some points on the board.

08:41 AM

7 mins +1

Last chance for GB to make an impression in this half. They've won another penalty in front of the posts thanks to a Fijian offside.

08:39 AM

Con. Fiji 14 - 0 GB

Riwai converts the try to make it 14 unanswered points. Team GB have played well this half but Fiji only need the slightest of chances to punish any opposition.

08:38 AM

TRY FIJI

It's Alowesi Nakoci yet again. She's an absolute firecracker. Nakoci sprints the length of the pitch after Fiji win back the ball to touch down under the posts - a demoralising blow to GB after some good play.

08:37 AM

6 mins

Excellent defensive work from Fiji. Despite giving away a few early penalties, they've rushed up well to challenge the Brits and force a knock on.

08:37 AM

5 mins

GB kick to the corner again and it's a 5 metre lineout. Aitchison launches it in and Abbie Brown rises to take the ball. Fiji are offside and give away yet another penalty.

08:36 AM

4 mins

GB force a 5-metre scrum, as Rowland and Fleming manage to trap Fiji behind their own posts.
It's a poor pass from Aitchison out of the scrum but GB recover to win another penalty.

08:35 AM

2 mins

Helena Rowland puts in an excellent penalty kick into Fiji's 22. GB's lineout is taken well and they spin it left. Nakoci makes a sensational tackle on Joyce just 5 metres from the Fijian tryline.

08:33 AM

Con. Fiji 7 - 0 GB

Riwai converts the try.

08:33 AM

TRY FIJI

Team GB give away a penalty and it's a scrum to Fiji. Alowesi Nakoci, arguably Fiji's best player, takes the ball on a straight run and pierces between the British players to touch down - there's no catching her when she's running at you like that.

08:32 AM

Kick-off

GB in red kick to Fiji in black and white. Solikoviti immediately collects, breaks a tackle and surges for the line but is brought down by Joyce who really had to turn on the after-burners to catch the Fijian.

08:30 AM

Players taking to the pitch

Here we go!

08:27 AM

T-minus 3 minutes to kick-off

Can GB repeat their feat in Rio and bring home a second consecutive bronze medal? We're soon to find out.

08:22 AM

Team announcements

Team GB
Joyce, Brown, Fleming, Matthews, Jones, Aitchison, Rowland
(subs: Burton, Hunt, Smith, Uren, Quansah)

Fiji
Solikoviti, Donu, Nagasau, Ulunisau, Riwai, Nakoci, Naimasi
(subs: Daveua, Roqica, Cavuru, Likuceva, Radiniyavuni)

08:19 AM

Good morning!

And welcome to the live blog for Team GB's bronze medal match against Fiji in the women's rugby sevens.

Team GB were beaten soundly by a powerful French side in their semi-finals, while Fiji lost out in a heartbreaking golden try defeat to New Zealand.

Fiji's performance against the Black Fearns would suggest that Team GB have a mountain to climb for that bronze medal, but simply contending at the Olympics must be viewed as a victory given the team had to rely on last minute national lottery funding to make it to the Games.

08:06 AM

Report from overnight by Pippa Field

Great Britain women's sevens players will aim to put a "difficult few years" to one side and finish with bronze in Tokyo - although it will be a tough challenge against an impressive Fiji side.

British hopes of fighting for gold were dashed on Saturday morning when France deservedly won their semi-final 26-19 at the Tokyo Stadium. Britain will now face a Fiji side, who suffered an agonising golden try defeat to New Zealand in the first semi-final, for bronze.

"We don’t want to focus too much on it because we’ve gone out there and put everything we could out there and now we’ve just got to refocus - focus on the next game," said Emma Uren afterwards. "This competition is not over. We’ve still got a medal on the line. Okay, we didn’t play the way we wanted to play but as much as it’s hard, it drives us now to get that medal."

Simply getting to the medal matches will be seen by many as an achievement after the women's team, like their British male counterparts, had their central contracts ripped up in August last year as the Rugby Football Union cut costs amid a Covid funding squeeze.

It took last-minute funding from the National Lottery just to help the teams get to Japan while the future also remains unclear with the English, Welsh and Scottish unions all saying in December they would review the situation after the Games. After Britain's men missed out on the podium in their own bronze-medal match on Wednesday, the retiring Dan Bibby described a planned future sevens programme, in which he claimed eight players had been offered contracts, as "a joke".

Anne-Cecile Ciofani was a star for France - REUTERS
Anne-Cecile Ciofani was a star for France - REUTERS

When asked about the disrupted build up to the Games, Uren replied: "It’s definitely been a very difficult few years. We’ve been lucky that the Lottery has given us a programme and allowed us to come in, especially with all the Covid stuff, and train together. But it’s definitely been a real tough one with everyone away from families a lot and it’s very difficult to have that unknown and not have that stability."

Converted tries from Anne-Cecile Ciofani and Seraphine Okemba moved the French 14 points ahead before a breakaway try from Welsh wonder Jasmine Joyce kept Britain in touch. Coralie Bertrand claimed a third French touchdown before the break, but Joyce then sprinted clear for her second try making it 21-12 at half-time.

Another early try for France, a second for Ciofani, made the mountain to climb that bit higher before a Hannah Smith score converted by Natasha Hunt set up a tense finale, but France held on.

Head coach Scott Forrest added: "We can't have any complaints. We didn't play well and were far from our best. There were too many mistakes - we didn't stick to the game-plan.

"It was disappointing, but that's on all of us, me and the players. The easy thing would be we start to drift apart as a group, but we have got a big opportunity to go and win a medal, so this should bring us closer together."

"If we defended like we did against the United States (quarter-final), we would have had positive outcomes, but we missed too many tackles, we over-chased slightly and that allowed their steppers to come back inside. We played into their hands."

02:56 AM

From Pippa Field, in Tokyo

It's sadly a repeat of Rio five years ago as Great Britain will play for bronze once more in the women's rugby sevens.

An improved second half-showing from Britain who, despite again conceding in the opening moments, refused to accept their fate right up until the hooter.

They got it to within seven points but in France, they came up against a side who were organised, determined, clinical and ultimately the better side.

Judging by Fiji's showing in their semi-final defeat to New Zealand, bronze will be a tough old ask for the British team.

02:55 AM

Full-time: GB 19 France 26

France will progress to the final against New Zealand; Team GB will play Fiji in the bronze-medal match.

02:55 AM

12 mins: GB 19 France 26

GB keep pushing and Fleming breaks clear!

She's hauled down just before the France 22. But GB cannot execute and France win a holding-on penalty. That's going to be it.

02:53 AM

11 mins: GB 19 France 26

GB are pushing hard here - and France are conceding penalty after penalty.

Brown elects to scrum just inside the French half. It's getting towards do-or-die for GB.

02:51 AM

CON GB! GB 19 France 26

Aitchison's conversion is good - the difference is now just seven points.

02:51 AM

TRY GB! GB 17 France 26

The comeback is on!

England win a penalty from the scrum and Smith cuts a pearl of an angle to score, via a quick juggle.

02:50 AM

10 mins: GB 12 France 26

Okemba cannot control a GB kick, fumbling into touch, so GB will throw into a lineout in the French half.

Penalty to GB for offside.

02:47 AM

TRY FRANCE! GB 12 France 26

It's the worst possible start for GB.

They turn the ball over from the restart, with Brown knocking on. France rapidly shift the ball wide and no one's stopping the athletic, dynamic Ciofani from there.

Drouin misses her conversion attempt for the first time.

02:46 AM

From Pippa Field, in Tokyo

Where would Great Britain be without Jasmine Joyce? Heading for the bronze medal match that's for sure. France have dictated that first half with three well-worked tries but twice Welsh wonder Joyce has gone on lung-busting runs, turning on the after-burners to speed away for her sixth and seventh tries in this Tokyo competition and keep Britain in touch. The team needs to start making their tackles stick and cut out the silly errors. A long way back but not impossible.

02:44 AM

TRY GB! GB 12 France 21

It's Joyce again! GB work the overlap and Joyce has too much space. She stretches her legs from halfway and canters over.

No conversion attempt? Referee says Aitchison was timed out so it's half-time and GB trail by nine points.

02:42 AM

CON FRANCE! GB 7 France 21

It's another good strike from Drouin.

02:42 AM

TRY FRANCE! GB 7 France 19

What a score! Kicking in sevens is rightly frowned upon but this is just a beauty.

Ulutule puts in a delectable cross-field grubber and Bertrand takes it in full flight to score.

02:40 AM

CON GB! GB 7 France 14

Aitchison adds the conversion and that's the full seven for GB.

02:40 AM

TRY GB! GB 5 France 14

GB's star Joyce races away after bursting a tackle on halfway.

GB are back in it!

02:39 AM

4 mins: GB 0 France 14

Better from GB as they work an attack from inside their own half, with Quansah carrying powerfully.

02:38 AM

CON FRANCE! GB 0 France 14

Another assured strike from Drouin.

It's a real uphill task for GB now - already.

02:37 AM

TRY FRANCE! GB 0 France 12

One-way traffic here!

Grassineau with some good work after France reclaimed the restart.

Okemba runs hard into space and there's no stopping her from there.

02:36 AM

CON FRANCE! GB 0 France 7

A great strike from Drouin and it's a perfect start for France.

02:36 AM

TRY FRANCE! GB 0 France 5

Ciofani - wow!

She gets a half-metre of space and the fend is too much for Rowland down the left and France take the lead after winning the ball back from a holding-on turnover.

02:34 AM

Kick-off

We are underway in Tokyo.

Drouin knocks on early and GB have an immediate chance to open the scoring.

02:32 AM

From Pippa Field, in Tokyo

Incredible scenes at the Tokyo Stadium. New Zealand book their place in the final courtesy of a golden try from Gayle Broughton and the players, from both teams, are strewn across the pitch, absolutely cooked.

Heartache for Fiji who had kept themselves alive at the death through Reapi Ulunisau's try right on the buzzer on full time. They will have to play for bronze later while New Zealand, ranked as the world's best team and silver medallists in Rio, will await the outcome of Great Britain vs France.

Those two teams have got a lot to live up to now, that was rugby sevens at its all-action best.

02:30 AM

Team news

Great Britain: Joyce, Brown, Quansah, Matthews, Jones, Aitchison, Rowland.

France: Okemba, Ciofani, Ulutule, Horta, Bertrand, Grassineau, Drouin.

02:28 AM

New Zealand have done it!

The Kiwis score the sudden-death try and they're into the final.

Heartbreak for Fijiana, who now progress to the bronze-medal final. Both of those matches are later today.

02:25 AM

More from Pippa in Tokyo

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02:22 AM

Drama in Tokyo!

Fiji have scored in the last play of the match in the other semi-final!

It's in the corner, the score is 17-17, there is a conversion to come...

Missed! It's extra-time sudden death. That will push the kick-off time of GB v France on slightly...

02:20 AM

Dispatch from Pippa Field, in Tokyo

Not long until a crucial semi-final for Great Britain women's sevens teams. Quite apart from the fact that a gold-medal match is up for grabs, reaching the final would be massive for a team that saw their central contracts cut last year as part of cost-cutting measures at the RFU. The men's team have already expressed their frustration at the situation and you expect the women will want to have their say, too, after their competition has concluded. Watch this space.

First up they need to find a way past an impressive looking French side. No prizes for guessing that it is hot here again at the Tokyo Stadium and full marks to the stadium announcer for continually trying to whip up an atmosphere in a venue that was meant to hold 48,000 for these Games, and instead has just a splattering of school children and support staff in it.

By the way, New Zealand have taken a dramatic, late lead in the other semi-final. The Kiwis lead 17-12 into overtime...

02:14 AM

In the other semi-final...

Fiji currently lead favourites New Zealand 12-5 with five minutes to go.

The winner books their place in the gold-medal final later today.

02:06 AM

Good morning!

It's the business end of the women's rugby sevens competition today, writes Pippa Field, in Tokyo, and how Great Britain would dearly love to finish with a medal in Tokyo, especially after the troubles of the last year and a bit.

More on that in a second, but first up matters on the pitch. Scott Forrest's team take on France shortly in the semi-finals for the chance to play for gold, against either New Zealand or Fiji.

So far it's been a pretty solid tournament for the British side, who beat the Russian Olympic Committee team and Kenya in their Group A games while losing 26-21 to New Zealand - although that was also a case of what might have been after leading the world's best sevens team 21-0 after three tries in the first four-and-a-half minutes.

Next up was the USA in the quarter-finals yesterday and they once again got off to a rapid start before their opponents pegged them back. The Americans threatened to rally but Britain held on for a 21-12 win. "We had to stay in it," said Abbie Brown afterwards. "We were backing each other up and we didn't let them go. We are all about heart and desire - I am so proud of everyone."

Keeping their medal dreams alive is particularly sweet for the women's team who, like their British male counterparts, saw their central contracts ripped up in August last year as the Rugby Football Union cut costs amid a Covid funding squeeze. It took last-minute funding from the National Lottery just to help get the teams to Tokyo, while the future also remains unclear with the English, Welsh and Scottish unions all saying in December they would review the situation after the Games.

That has appeared little consolation to men's sevens star Dan Bibby who described a planned future sevens programme, in which he claimed eight players had been offered contracts, as "a joke" after the team missed out on a medal in Tokyo in finishing fourth. That is a place the women know only too well having also just fallen short of the podium in Rio five years ago (the men took silver). So getting over that final hurdle and into the final will be massive.

It's by no means guaranteed, however, with their semi-final opponents France recording a 100 per cent record in their group-stage games and then dispatching China 24-10 in the quarter-finals.