Australia were crowned the first ever Olympic rugby sevens champions after beating New Zealand 24-17 in the final of the women’s tournament in Rio on Monday.
The favourites outscored the Kiwis by four tries to three, two of them crucially coming either side of half-time when star New Zealand winger Portia Woodman was in the sin bin for a deliberate knock-on.
Australian coach Tim Walsh said he had been left “absolutely elated” by the performance of his team.
“We’ve had some huge battles with New Zealand over the past few years. Anyone could have won the tournament today. I’m just so relieved we’ve got it!”
Woodman said she was left “disappointed with my own game, not that of my team”. “It came down to that one mistake. Even though it wasn’t a big deal, it led to two tries that didn’t need to happen.
“We gave it to them, they capitalised on our mistakes, we knew we couldn’t let that happen.”
The tournament marked the first time since 1924 that rugby has been played at the Olympics and the debut for sevens, the previous four incarnations featuring men’s 15-a-side tournaments.
New Zealand, who beat Britain 25-7 in the semi-final, opened the scoring through barn-storming centre Kayla McAlister, sister of Toulouse-based former All Black Luke.
In a hard-hitting encounter, Kiwi sweeper Tyla Nathan-Wong tracked back superbly to drag down Australian flyer Emma Tonegato with the line beckoning.
But Tonegato was on hand from a resulting penalty to scramble over in the corner to draw the scores level.
Woodman was yellow-carded on the stroke of half-time and Australia immediately capitalised, Evania Pelite sprinting down the left to take her side into a 10-5 lead.
The final, played in front of World Rugby president Bill Beaumont and assorted rugby illuminati, proved to be a compelling match featuring the two best sides by far in the competition, both having displayed fitness levels and skillsets largely superior to the 10 other teams.
That was shown to startling effect three minutes into the second-half as the outstanding Charlotte Caslick combined with Emilee Cherry to put Ellia Green away for Australia’s third try, with Chloe Dalton converting.
Caslick, whose mazy running has made her one of the most dangerous players in the tournament, slid over for her own deserved try shortly after, Dalton again converting.
McAlister grabbed her second with less than two minutes to play while Woodman, the all-time leading try-scorer in World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series history with 119 tries over four seasons, took her tournament tally to a leading 10 with a consolation effort on the hooter.
New Zealand left the field after an emotional post-match haka wardance during which some of their players were crying.
Landry leads Canada to bronze
Canada, who had gone down 22-0 to Britain in pool play, dominated the British 33-10 to claim bronze.
Karen Paquin opened the scoring for the Canucks, with Danielle Waterman responding before Ghislaine Landry dummied her way over to retake the lead.
With captain England captain Emily Scarratt yellow-carded for a deliberate knock-on, Bianca Farella and Kelly Russell ran in a brace for Canada to leave it 26-5 at half-time.
Welsh winger Jasmine Joyce, the sole non-English player in Britain’s team, pulled a five-pointer back, but Landry had the last laugh with her second as the Canadians claimed a measure of revenge for their loss to England in the 15-a-side women’s Rugby World Cup final in 2014.
Meanwhile, the United States were 19-5 victors over France to secure fifth spot, while Spain beat Fiji 21-0 for seventh. And Brazil notched up a 33-5 victory over Japan to ensure themselves a core team place on next season’s Sevens Series circuit.
“We accomplished our target, which was to finish ninth and play the Womens Series next year,” Brazilian rugby union president Eduardo Mufarej told AFP.