Australia squads to play Fiji, NZ in Olympic tuneup event


TOWNSVILLE, Australia — Australia men’s rugby sevens coach Tim Walsh has his squad up against some fairly strong competition in a warm-up tournament this weekend — 2016 Olympic gold medalist Fiji and perennially strong New Zealand.

The Oceania Sevens features the defending champions from Rio de Janeiro five years ago, when the game made its debut at the Olympics.

Australia’s Olympic champion women’s team will also play world sevens series champion New Zealand and Fiji in the three-day tournament in Townsville starting Friday.

Due to the coronavirus and a scarcity of international competition, information on the global state of rugby sevens has been scarce, so a heavy emphasis has been placed on the matches this weekend.

The men’s and women’s teams from the three nations plus an Oceania Barbarians side will each play six matches — two per day from Friday to Sunday. On Friday, Australia opens the men’s tournament against Fiji and New Zealand plays the Barbarians.

“Three out of the top four best in the world are playing in this tournament so you really can’t ask for much better preparation than what we’re able to achieve this weekend,” Walsh said of the men’s competition. “We’re going a little bit blind (to Tokyo) in terms of we don’t know what everybody else is doing, where they’re at . . . there’s a little bit of intel out there.”

For back Joe Pincus, the Oceania Sevens will provide him and the Australians a valuable warm-up ahead of Tokyo, particularly against the New Zealanders.

“We relish having to verse them and it’s really good because we’re going to have to play them in the Olympics,” Pincus said. “Hopefully we can get some good performances and some wins, but also, it’s all going to be about the process this weekend. It might not be the end result, as long as we’re still heading in the right direction heading into Tokyo.”

The Fiji men’s and women’s squads had to spend two weeks in quarantine on the Sunshine Coast, north of Brisbane, before traveling further north in Queensland state to Townsville.

The Olympic rugby sevens tournament kicks off with the men’s competition on July 26 at Tokyo Stadium.

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