Rio Olympics 2016: sevens minnow Nauru blocking Australia’s path to qualification

They are the rugby nation that has half a football field, a grand total of 150 player and only started playing the game four years ago.

But the footballing minnows from Nauru stand in the way of the Australian men’s sevens team qualifying for next year’s Rio Olympics.

The tiny Pacific island is Australia’s first pool opponent in the Oceania Regional Olympic qualifier in Auckland this weekend.

To help prepare for the tournament the team went into camp last weekend — at the coach’s home — where they had team bonding, training, video sessions and team talks.

While the Australian Rugby Union has ploughed plenty of money and resources into getting the team to the Olympics, their first-up opponents are the quintessential rugby battlers.

Nauru’s coach Ashly Dagan Kaierua said Sevens rugby was only introduced to the country in 2011.

“We started with touch and tag rugby because we never had the conditions to do tackle rugby,” Kaierua told the Daily Telegraph.

Then locals secured a grassed area which they have proudly turned into a makeshift field.

“We call it the rugby ground, it is about 50 metre by 50 metre,” the coach said.

“We don’t have any goalposts but we have the markings of a rugby ground with halfway line and 10m line and tryline. And now we can do all the contact.”

While the Australian Sevens squad are on contracts, the Nauru players don’t have that luxury.

After a full day’s work they head off in the evening to do their practice on their home ground.

It is more difficult for the two or three players who work at the Nauru detention centre because they do 12 hour shifts which often means that they cannot get to training.

Squad members have had to take time off work for this weekend’s tournament and for some it will be their first trip overseas.

And Kaierua said his team is gearing up for the biggest game of their lives against the Australians, whose squad has been bolstered by the inclusion of World Cup winger Henry Speight.

“It is a massive challenge for our guys, we are focusing on our game at the moment,” the coach said.

Kaierua said the team will get inspiration from Japan’s stunning defeat of the South African Springboks during the World Cup.

“We have been watching the World Cup and Japan caused a big upset and we hope whatever happens on the field game works in our way, and anything can happen,” he said.


The Daily Telegraph