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The top International rugby stories from 2016 follow:
- Olympic Games in Rio: Rugby in the seven-a-side version returned to the Olympic Games for the first time since 1924. Importantly, it offered venues for men’s and women’s sides. The matches received wide global television viewership.
- Fiji (Men) and Australia (Women) Won Olympic Gold: The two winners of the 2015/2016 HSBC World Rugby Sevens Championships also won gold medals in Rio. Fiji defeated Great Britain (England, Wales and Scotland combined) in freewheeling style, winning the nation’s first ever Olympic medal. The Wallaroos beat Down Under rival New Zealand, exhibiting unselfish team play.
- World Rugby Executive Change – Billy Beaumont, a former England cap, replaced the retiring Bernard Lapasset. The French retiree is credited with stewarding World Rugby’s significant growth and development during his eight-year tenure.
- New Zealand Test Win Streak – The All Blacks continued beating opponents, reaching 18 wins in a row, tying their own past record.
- England Turn Around – From the ashes of October 2015’s Rugby World Cup humiliation to a Grand Slam win in the Six Nations Championship, and a 14 game win streak. The Red Roses beat the Wallabies four times in 2016, including three matches in Australia.
- Problems in South Africa – The Springboks took a bronze medal in the Olympics (defeating, a surprising Japan), and filled the Cape Town Stadium on the 7s circuit. But the XV side performed below par during the Rugby Championship rounds against the All Blacks, the Wallabies, and Argentina. South Africa also mounted a losing autumn Test Match tour to Europe.
- Japan Finish Fourth in the Olympics – The Brave Blossoms surprised the sevens’ world with fourth place in Rio, surpassing New Zealand, the USA, Argentina, and France for a spot in the medal round.
- Ireland Upset the All Blacks 40-29 - Losing does happen to New Zealand and, oddly, it occurred in Chicago when the Irish met New Zealand at Soldier Field. The stands revealed a sea of green Ireland rooters. Every bounce went Ireland's way as the All Blacks suffered their first defeat in 18 games.
World Rugby indicated that the past year generated the highest playing numbers around the globe. An example, England tallied 10,000 more girls starting to play the sport.
On to 2017 where the key global event will be the Women’s Rugby World Cup in August to be played in Dublin and Belfast.