The GB Sevens squad has an outside chance of claiming the medal that was denied them in the final stages of the Rio tournament five years ago.
If ever there was a banker for gold, it is the Black ferns. They went down to Australia in 2016, but since then the Wallaroos have been unable to recapture those golden standards.
Every competing nation has suffered setbacks caused by coronavirus, but at different stages and to different degrees. For the British there were added problems such as putting a team together from three different unions and finding financial backing from somewhere. Fortunately the National Lottery came to a partial rescue late on, but the lack of proper preparation has proved a major handicap.
Two tournaments were set up, at Burton-on-Trent in May involving France and Ireland, and the Quest for Gold in Los Angeles in June, where they faced the USA and Mexico. Both were last-minute arrangements, both coming barely two months before the real thing.
We can disregard the Mexico result where GB ran in 76 points against an outclassed opposition. The other three nations revealed what a task faces GB in Tokyo: all provided a stiff challenge, France and the USA finishing well ahead.
Scott Forrest was able to decide his final squad only between the two events. That is in the nature of GB’s unique status as an amalgam of three unions, but the pandemic had delayed that all-important selection till the latest moment imaginable.
Abbie Brown (co-captain)
Meg Jones (co-captain)
There is experience here: Brown, Hunt, Joyce and Matthews played in Rio; and there is a mass of talent. The question is: can they beat sides who have been together for so much longer – even if they too have been deprived of competition? That is where the worries begin. Ten of the squad of twelve are English, and England had a world ranking of 8th as of 2020 (no rankings possible in 2021).
In the two recent tournaments the squad showed plenty of skill and endeavour, but costly errors crept in. Some can be corrected by practice, for example, claiming the ball at kick-off. Here GB proved vulnerable, and possession in 7s is nine-tenths of the law – some would claim ten-tenths.
As luck would have it, GB meet the Black Ferns in their second match. Though the Ferns are short-odds favourites to take gold, that does not necessarily mean an early end for the British; they can qualify for the upper reaches by outperforming their rivals in the remaining games.
There are three pools of four nations. GB are drawn in Pool A:
Thursday 29 July
GB v Russia 11.00 (local time)
GB v New Zealand 18.30
GB v Kenya 11.00