Fiji won their country’s first medal of any colour with victory in Rio and are currently ranked the best in the world - despite a population of only 800,000.
This humble nation overcame the rugby world to win the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series for the third time in May and then Olympic gold. They triumphed in what has arguably been the most heart-warming sports story of the year. This film from Zoomfiji tells their tale.
Rugby union is often the most unfussy of sports. Its players revel in unstarry nature, to the extent it becomes their calling card and helps separate them from the rest of the world.
Simple, honest, humble athletes getting on with the game, leaving the histrionics and the drama to everyone else.
If you consider the established legends of game this century – Jonny Wilkinson, Richie McCaw, Dan Carter and Brian O’Driscoll – with the exception of the latter, their ability lay in doing the basics at stratospheric levels of perfection and consistency.
Highlights packages involving Wilkinson, McCaw and Carter don’t exactly stir the blood or wow the mind, unless perhaps you are a genuine purist. As unbelievable as they were on the field, off it, in terms of their public persona, they were remarkable in being unremarkable; just down to earth, good blokes.
Wilkinson had his OCD and meticulous eye for detail, Carter blessed with Hollywood levels of handsomeness while McCaw was a farmer but they weren’t exactly displaying Usain Bolt or Cristiano Ronaldo levels of showmanship.
Beauden Barrett fits very much into this model and, in terms of individuals at the very top of their game, is perhaps the world’s least assuming star right now. The freshly-crowned World Player of the Year is reluctant to talk about himself, always referring to his form within the context of the team.
CONGRATS to Beauden Barrett Who has won the World Rugby Player of the Year 2016!pic.twitter.com/xbINmXGuU0— BenchWarmers (@BeWarmers) November 13, 2016
As he said about his award: “It’s a by-product of a couple of great teams I have been a part of”.
While in the wake of one of his best performance of the year in August, as the All Blacks hammered Australia 40-8 in Sydney, he remarked: “I’d prefer to slip under the radar personally.”
And yet what sets him apart from Wilkinson, McCaw and Carter – the man who’s shirt he has inherited so impressively as an All Black – is how he plays the game. The best No10s – Carter, Wilkinson, Michael Lynagh – were dependable, playing to the percentages and managing the game with efficiency and professionalism.
The unorthodox and unpredictable Quade Cooper, Carlos Spencer or Thomas Castaignede may be great to watch but you can’t trust them with the keys to the kingdom.
Barrett has always had the maverick and generational talent inside him, which had previous led him to being pigeon-holed as an impact substitution at international level.
Yet, somehow this year he’s managed to blend the best attributes from both spectrums and find the consistency many though wasn’t previously possible, and when he’s been good for the Hurricanes and All Blacks – which is more often that not – he’s been unplayable.
His step, turn of pace and ability to break the line puts him alongside the most electric of backs; while his tactical kicking, organisation and composure in high-pressure situations in the biggest games, has enabled the All Blacks to make the seamless transition from the Carter and McCaw era.
There are still doubts over his goal-kicking and defence but these can be developed, and, indeed, Barrett’s performances in both these departments have been a marked improvement from last year. If he continues on this trajectory, it’s fascinating to see what sort of player he will become.
One thing’s for sure, he won’t make a song and dance about it.
Olympic gold medal winners and 2015-16 Women’s Sevens Series champions Australia will begin their 2016-17 campaign against South Africa, following the announcement of the full match schedule for the Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens.
While Fiji start their men’s series defence against Canada, Australia’s women begin against the South Africans and also face USA and Russia, the latter of whom they beat 31-12 to win last year’s Dubai final.
That victory proved to be the catalyst for a season to remember, as the Australians took two further titles in Sao Paulo and Atlanta, and overall series success for the first time – a stepping stone to Olympic gold.
Olympic silver medallists New Zealand, winners in Dubai in 2012 and 2014, begin their Dubai campaign against Ireland and also face France and Fiji. Les Bleues have finished fourth at the last two Dubai events, while Fijiana and Ireland both helped kick-start the 2015 event by upsetting Canada and USA.
Canada, who finished third in the 2015-16 series, start against Brazil in Pool C, while England and Spain get the action underway in Dubai with the very first match of the competition.
The fifth women’s series will also qualify four teams for Rugby World Cup Sevens 2018 in San Francisco, USA in July 2018. New Zealand, Canada, Spain and USA have qualified by virtue of reaching the semi-finals at RWC Sevens 2013 but the top four nations outside of these in the 2016-17 series will secure their places in the 16-team event.
The women’s competition starts on December 1 with pool matches and concludes with knock-outs on December 2, the day the men’s action starts.
Entry is FREE on Thursday 1 December with tickets costing AED 300 (in advance) or AED 400 on the day for both Friday and Saturday (men’s series only). Children under 12 are admitted free.
World Rugby Chairman Bill Beaumont said: “Dubai always provides a superb setting and atmosphere and it will be fascinating to see whether Australia will continue their gold-medal winning form into the series and whether new challengers will emerge as we begin the road to Tokyo 2020.”