‘Once we qualify, then I can get excited’ - Abbie Brown on GB Sevens’ Olympic ‘dream’

Two-time Olympian Abbie Brown is hoping to   (Getty Images)
Two-time Olympian Abbie Brown is hoping to (Getty Images)

For GB Sevens, the equation in Krakow is simple – win and in. Britain’s men and women head to the European Games in Poland this weekend with Olympic rugby sevens qualification on the line. Having missed out on qualification via the World Sevens Series, it is winner takes all, with only the gold medallists in Poland directly booking their spot at Paris 2024.

“It is a massive year,” women’s co-captain Abbie Brown tells The Independent. “The Olympics is the dream, it is what we are building towards as GB. This is our goal, this is our passion, this is our drive.”

It’s been an up and down year for a programme brought together under the GB umbrella in the hopes of ensuring a smoother ride in the lead up to Paris 2024. In the previous two World Cup cycles, England have secured qualification before integrating Scottish and Welsh players in the lead-up to the Olympics. An integrated group should be best set up for success next summer – provided both sides get there.

There have been teething problems in this first campaign for a fully fledged GB Sevens set-up, with the programme likely to be tweaked again ahead of the run-up to the Olympics.

A number of ill-timed injuries to key players, including Brown herself, have also proved disruptive as the squads tried to build rhythm over the winter.

An uncertain coaching picture has provided challenges but Great Britain’s men and women have both played some of their better rugby over the last few months. Brown – one of Team GB’s flag-bearers in Krakow - is confident that her side might be hitting their stride at just the right time.

“We were a new team coming into this year so we kind of had no expectation of what it was going to look like,” she explains. “It is showing now that we are gelling much more as a team on the pitch. Off the pitch, this is such a special group and we all get on really well.

“We’ve had a lot of challenges thrown our way, and a lot of challenges in the past. I’m a firm believer that when things are hard, yes it challenges you, but it creates something so amazing. You really come together in those times.

“It was always going to take time and take a little bit of getting used to, but we’ve been putting in some great performances in the last few tournaments and we’re looking to build on that.”

Brown’s side are favourites to secure qualification, with France – who beat them to tournament victory in the Algarve last weekend – excluded as Olympic hosts and Ireland already secure of their place in Paris after an outstanding season on the World Series. It leaves Spain and hosts Poland as the likeliest threats, but, as Brown cautions, sevens is a format in which nothing can be taken for granted. ““The European leg is always so tough because you have such quality teams,” she explains. “Who turns up on the day is so important.” The men, meanwhile, must contend with an Irish side that finished above them on the final 2022-23 ladder.

There is a degree of uncertainty over what the next 12 months look like, with the sevens series about to undergo a significant revamp, with World Rugby trying to making each date on the calendar feel like more of a festival by “widening the event experience”. It feels like a necessary evolution given the struggles the series has had in re-gaining momentum after the enforced stalling during the pandemic. Heading into an Olympic year, and the obvious attention it should bring, Brown is hopeful more eyes can be drawn to the condensed version of the sport.

“There’s just so much excitement within sevens, the game itself is so exciting, so how do we really showcase this amazing sport that we play? How do we get as many people watching and playing it as we can?”

In the past, a number of sevens players have felt that they have not been properly consulted about the direction of the sport and how best to take it forward. Does Brown, now a veteran of eight years on the circuit, feel this is improving? “It is a tricky one. In the past, it hasn’t been great, and there is still a lot of room for improvement.

“We’ve had a couple of meetings with World Rugby recently about things. It’s just important that they hear our voice and the right people are in the room at the right time.”

Still, there is understandable excitement about the prospect of next year’s Paris jamboree, particularly after such a weird experience at Tokyo 2020, an Olympics without any of the spirit that typically makes the Games. But first, there is a job to do, and Brown dare not look past the task at hand.

“It is so exciting, but I’m not really excited because we haven’t qualified yet. It’s so close to home, it’s in Paris, it’s an hour away. Family and friends can be there – we didn’t have that in Tokyo. But I want us to qualify so the focus is very much on that. Once we qualify, then I can get excited about it.”