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Olympic Medals Represent change in team culture and Respect of Women's Rugby

Fri, 10/09/2021, 05:28 am
Oceania Rugby
by Oceania Rugby
Black Fern Sevens & Fijiana Sevens along with France celebrate on the Tokyo 2020 podium
Black Fern Sevens & Fijiana Sevens along with France celebrate on the Tokyo 2020 podium

It's fair to say Fiji's Olympic women's 7s rugby side left the country with little fanfare, few expectations and muted support prior to arriving in Tokyo.

They returned on a pedestal - literally in some cases – after claiming the bronze medal following a stunning quarter-final win over defending champions Australia, a close loss to New Zealand in the semis and victory over Great Britain in the third-placed play-off.

Speaking on a post-Games Oceania Rugby webinar, featuring some of the region's finest players and officials, Fiji's trailblazing captain Rusila Nagasau spoke about the significance and importance of winning a bronze medal.

"Our first aim was to win a medal and our second aim was to promote women's rugby in Fiji," she declared.

"We had to treat every game as a final because we wanted to change the mindset in Fiji.

"Playing against Australia, the defending champion, that was our biggest challenge at that point.

"We were very happy to win that and then coming up against New Zealand in sudden death wasn't easy. We lost but the girls fought to the last whistle.

"Our manager told us after that game the whole of Fiji is now behind us because we reached the semi-final.

"That was one of the biggest achievements for women in Fiji. We wanted to show we can achieve what Fiji's men have done in rugby."

The reaction when the team returned home with bronze was in complete contrast to their departure.

Proud Fijians flooded the team's hotel in Nadi, where the team was quarantined for a fortnight, to leave food at the foyer entrance.

Some players were afforded a ceremonial homecoming upon returning to their villages, hoisted high above their people and paraded in an honour rarely afforded females.

"Rugby in Fiji is a male-dominated game and going to the Olympics we didn't have that much support, but I think that has now changed," Nagasau said.

Australia's Sharni Williams has been to two Olympics for two very different results.

She was part of the Aussies' breakthrough win at the 2016 Games at Rio – a victory that really put women's rugby on the map Downunder – before facing disappointment as a member of the 2020 Tokyo outfit which failed to medal.

After reflecting on the Tokyo performance, Williams took an altruistic view.

"The teams are getting closer (in ability). We lost two games by two points. It shows the calibre of rugby and the skill level the women are producing," she said.

"We didn't absorb the pressure as much as we should have and being a professional athlete, you've got to learn from those moments."

New Zealand 7s star Shiray Kaka revealed a big shift in culture – and an emphasis on a team-first ethic – was a major reason behind the Black Ferns' rise from silver medallists at Rio to gold medal winners at Tokyo.

"It was not a good place to be in (in 2016). We had no culture in our team. We had to change the whole dynamic," Kaka conceded.

"Our main thing was to grow good players on and off field."

The Kiwis placed great importance on being punctual to team meetings, respecting the team colours and emblem and looking out for each other away from the rugby field.

"It was all the individuals finding who they were as a person and what their values were and us coming together to create team values," Kaka said.

"We are literally a family now and to win gold as a family makes it even more special."

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