Olympics-Rugby-USA hope strong ties bring Tokyo gold

TOKYO (Reuters) – U.S. co-captain Abby Gustaitis believes a culture shift within the squad has led to improvements on the pitch as the squad prepare to open their women’s rugby sevens campaign to the Tokyo Olympics against China next week.

The United States finished fifth in Rio de Janeiro five years ago, but are aiming for gold this time around after several strong performances in the 2018-19 World Rugby Sevens Series season that culminated with a second place finish. They then finished fifth in 2019-2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic suspended competition.

“We really focused on ourselves and tried to build a solid base that goes beyond the 12 (players) on the squad,” Gustaitis told reporters on Friday.

“We have received young players and we wanted to focus on the strong connection we have off the pitch, which certainly led to our best performances on the pitch.”

Coach Chris Brown took over the squad in 2018 and seems to have had an immediate impact.

“He really brought a lot of knowledge to rugby which allowed us to elevate our game and compete for these podiums,” said Gustaitis.

The American skipper is engaged to former England international mainstay Alex Corbisiero, and joked that there are perks for a partner who understands the game.

“But you can’t always take their advice, I don’t want to hear that. I do appreciate the support and the cooking though,” she said with a smile.

After their opener against China on Thursday, the United States will face hosts Japan and Australia in Pool C.

(Reporting by Mayu Sakoda; Editing by Toby Davis)

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