Papua New Guinea Olympic qualification would be huge achievement for “the country as a whole”

World Rugby caught up with PNG head coach Paul Tietjens and captain Kymlie Rapilla ahead of the Olympic repechage tournament in Monaco.

Papua New Guinea’s women will arrive in Monaco next month intent on writing a new chapter in the country’s Olympic Games story.

Since making its Olympic debut in 1976, a year after gaining independence, the Pacific Island nation has sent teams to every Summer Games, bar Moscow 1980, but is yet to compete in a team sport.

The closest PNG has come to participating in a team event is the men’s 4x400m relay, in which it competed at both Barcelona 1992 and Atlanta 1996.

However, that would change at Tokyo 2020 should PNG secure one of the two women’s sevens places up for grabs at the Olympic Repechage tournament, which will take place in Monaco between 19-20 June.

“It's a really big thing for us, not only for female team sport, but for the country as a whole,” PNG captain Kymlie Rapilla told World Rugby.

“For the first time, a team sport is going to be taking part and even better a women's team. So, it's a huge thing for us, for PNG rugby and for sport in PNG.”

Challenging preparation

PNG were one of three seeded women’s teams for the repechage draw earlier this month, and will compete alongside Kazakhstan, Jamaica and Tunisia in the pool stage in Monaco.

The team’s preparations, however, have been impacted severely by COVID-19 restrictions, with head coach Paul Tietjens spending the pandemic at home in New Zealand’s Bay of Plenty.

Tietjens, the son of World Rugby Hall of Fame coach Gordon, has kept in touch with the squad regularly via Zoom, WhatsApp and email, but has not coached his players in person since February, 2020.

Rapilla and her team-mates, meanwhile, have only recently been able to return to training as the country emerges from its latest period of lockdown.

“It makes it extremely challenging,” Tietjens said. “I mean, you can't see the players getting pushed first hand at training and you're getting verbal messages back and forth from your management who are on-base there in Port Moresby. 

“But at the same time, I do trust that they're doing the work under my management team over there, but it's been very difficult because we've been unable to play any form of tournaments or warm-up matches in the last 12 months. 

“I know the girls have been playing some club rugby sporadically, but apart from that, it's been very limited in regards to what they can do, apart from training in their squad of 18, which we've got based in Port Moresby at the moment.”

Rapilla added: “It's been really tough, but we've managed. 

“We had our S&C (strength and conditioning) staff that are based here in PNG. So, they've been coming around and helping us with our training, especially for our on-field conditioning and just with the gym and stuff.

“[Tietjens] keeps track of our trainings, and we're always keeping him in the loop.”

Chasing Olympic dream

The squad is currently training hard, twice a day on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, in order to ensure the players arrive in Monaco in the best possible condition.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions and quarantine procedures, Tietjens is unlikely to link up with his players until they arrive in Europe.

It will be vital, therefore, that they are able to hit the ground running in terms of their preparation in the principality. And, Tietjens has been able to call on some expert advice for how best to approach that time leading into the tournament.

“I’ve been in big discussions with [Gordon],” Tietjens said, “and been obviously talking about the challenges that we'll face, especially with the restrictions, not being able to train, travel and play in international tournaments to be exposed to that level of the game. 

“But basically, when we arrive in Monaco, we need to firstly make sure that the girls are physically and mentally prepared to start training because it's such a long flight over there and there will be some jet-lag added in. 

“So, we need about, I would say a good three days of quality training as a team working through our structure and our set-plays before we look any further than that. 

“But, definitely, I guess, asking him for some key advice when he's been put through similar situations. When I guess he's been underdone or underprepared with sides, it's all about just doing your very best and emptying the tank for each other despite the circumstances. 

“And, if we can obviously link up well together in Monaco and nail three or four good sessions under our belt before we begin on the Friday, that's all we can really ask for as a management group.”

Given the events of the last 15 months, how big an achievement would it be for PNG to book their place at Tokyo 2020? 

“It would be absolutely massive for not only Papua New Guinea rugby, but the nation itself,” Tietjens said.

“It would be a first and it would obviously be creating history in the country of PNG. So, it would mean a heck of a lot and even more now that we've gone through such tough times and challenging circumstances.”

Rapilla added: “It's huge, it would be a dream come true. Most of these girls in this team, they're all young girls. 

“It's been everyone's dream to compete at the Olympic level, so it would be really good for us.”

READ MORE: “This is the only stone left unturned” — Conan Osborne on Jamaica’s Olympic dream >>

Last updated: May 26, 2021, 11:22:38 AM
HK women's sevens head coach Iain Monaghan
wr-women-news-sevens sevens-news-women wr-news-olympics-repechage-teams sevens wr-news-sevens Olympic Qualifying wr-news-olympics-w Olympics wr-news wr-women-news wr-news-olympics-m sevens-news-men
Olympic Repechage contenders Hong Kong have already conquered their ‘Everest’
Hong Kong’s women have been ‘moving mountains’ in a bid to be in the best possible shape for the World Rugby Olympic Sevens Repechage in Monaco on 18-20 June.
Rugby Africa Women's Cup 2019: South Africa v Kenya - CREDIT: Gallo Images
wr-women-news-regions wr-news Women's Development Women's wr-women-news wr-women-news-power Womens
South Africa “no longer just a follower” when it comes to gender diversity in rugby
We spoke to World Rugby Council member Vanessa Doble about the constitutional amendments SA Rugby has made to increase female representation in its governance structures.
Maria Thomas
wr-women-news-regions wr-news Women's Development Women's wr-women-news Feature wr-women-news-power Womens
Maria Thomas putting scholarship lessons into practice as Trinidad and Tobago RFU’s first female president
We caught up with the World Rugby Women’s Executive Leadership Scholarship recipient following her historic election win.
wr-news wr-women-news mz-advisory RWC2021 Rugby World Cup wr-women-news-2021
World Rugby welcomes Mastercard as founding global partner of Women in Rugby and unveils new marketing campaign
World Rugby has announced details of a transformative five-year partnership with Mastercard and has also launched its new Team Powered marketing campaign.
Photo of players running out at a Japan rugby test event
wr-women-news-sevens wr-news wr-women-news wr-news-asia wr-news-sevens
Japan sevens chief hopes Tokyo Olympics continues cycle of success
With 50 days to go until the men’s final of the Olympic rugby sevens competition, Japan head coach Kensuke Iwabuchi looks forward to competing on home soil in Tokyo.
Amanda Cox
wr-women-news-regions wr-women-news-coach wr-news Women's Development Women's wr-women-news Feature Womens
Amanda Cox on the fight for more female representation in refereeing
We caught up with the referee coach to discuss her life in rugby and find out what needs to be done to create more opportunities for women to become match officials.
Photo of the France and Tunisia sides during a training camp at Marcoussis
Olympics wr-news Women's wr-women-news wr-news-olympics-repechage-teams sevens Team News Womens
The "Rebellious" preparing to fly the Tunisian flag in Monaco
As we reach 50 days to the rugby sevens kick-off at the Tokyo Olympics, the Tunisian women's rugby sevens team prepares to play their second World Rugby Sevens Repechage in Monaco, with ambitions beyond Tokyo 2020.
Argentine 7s captain Gimena Mattus attacks during the 2019 Pan American Games.
wr-women-news-sevens wr-news wr-women-news Feature wr-news-sevens Preview Olympic Qualifying
Argentina looking to end a difficult two years with history at Monaco sevens showdown
Argentina won't be flying into Monaco's Olympic Repechage as favourites, but that isn't stopping their dreams of Tokyo, as coach Tomás Bongiorno and captain Gime Mattus tell World Rugby.
Germany win Lodz Sevens 2019
wr-news-sevens wr-women-news-sevens wr-news wr-women-news
Germany look to new generation to defend Rugby Europe men’s sevens crown
Germany men’s sevens head coach Damian McGrath speaks to World Rugby ahead of the start of the Rugby Europe Championship Sevens Series.
HSBC New Zealand Sevens 2020 - Women's
sevens-news wr-women-news-sevens Women's sevens-news-women sevens wr-news-sevens sevens-news-feature sevens-news-olympic wr-news-olympics-w Olympics wr-news wr-women-news Tournament News Womens
Emilee Cherry: Five memorable moments from the career of a rugby sevens pioneer
Following the announcement that Cherry will hang up her boots prior to the Tokyo Olympics, we recap some of her best moments in the green and gold of Australia.