Emma Tonegato (Getty)
Rio - Australia capped a year to remember
by being crowned the first ever Olympic sevens champions after an enthralling
24-17 defeat of New Zealand in the gold medal match at the Deodoro Stadium on
The Women’s Sevens Series champions, having
won three of the five rounds in 2015/16, lived up to their billing as
favourites with tries from Emma Tonegato, Evania Pelite, Ellia Green and
Charlotte Caslick securing the historic gold medal for Australia.
Australia and New Zealand were joined on
the podium by Canada, who avenged their loss to Great Britain in the Pool C
decider on Sunday with a performance full of intensity and determination to
triumph 33-10 and claim the bronze medal.
In the other play-off matches on the final
day, the USA beat France for fifth place, Spain overcame Fiji for seventh, with
hosts Brazil beating Japan to ninth and Kenya finishing with a win over
Brazil's 33-5 victory over Japan meant that
as Tupis secured a core team place on the Women's Sevens Series for 2016/17.
It was the final many had predicted between
the top two seeds who have dominated women’s sevens, winning both Women’s Rugby
World Cup Sevens and all four of the Women’s Sevens Series between them.
New Zealand created the best of the early
opportunities when Huriana Manuel, on her 30th birthday, was hauled into touch
two metres out by Shannon Parry. Charlotte Caslick’s lineout throw was not
straight and the Kiwis worked the ball wide for Kayla McAlister to touch down
for a fifth-minute lead.
Australia then came into their own, Emma
Tonegato looking set to score a try until Tyla Nathan-Wong hauled her down
metres short. Sarah Goss turned over the ball but was then penalised for
holding on and Tonegato managed to squeeze over in the corner to tie the scores
after eight minutes.
A defining moment came when Portia Woodman,
New Zealand’s hat-trick hero in the semi-finals and the competition’s top
scorer, was sin-binned for a deliberate knock-on with time up in the first half
and Australia made their advantage count as Alicia Quirk held the defence
before releasing Evania Pelite.
With Woodman cutting a frustrated figure on
the touchline, Australia scored again after the break as Caslick made a break,
finding Emilee Cherry who had speedster Ellia Green outside to run in a third
try to stretch their lead to 17-5.
A fourth followed for Caslick, one of the
standout players in the competition, who tapped a penalty and made the most of
having two forwards in front of her, running straight and hard to crash over
the line putting Australia within sight of the gold medal they craved.
The lead was 24-5 but with four minutes to
go there was still time for New Zealand to mount a remarkable comeback, as they
have done many times on the world series, but there was little more than a
minute remaining when McAlister darted through the defence for her second.
Woodman grabbed a try with time up on the
clock – her 10th of the competition - but was inconsolable after touching down,
knowing how costly her yellow card had been to New Zealand, and the Australian
celebrations could begin.
For one member of the Australian squad the
gold medal completed a unique double, Nicole Beck having been part of her
country’s side that also won the first ever Women’s Rugby World Cup Sevens back
in 2009, just six months before the International Olympic Committee voted to
include rugby sevens on the Olympic programme for Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020.
Great Britain had dominated a subdued
Canadian side when the two teams had met in the Pool C decider on Sunday, but
in a complete reversal of fortunes it was the North American side who had the
greater desire to bounce back from their semi-final disappointment.
Canada created space for Karen Paquin to
score the opening try, only for Alice Richardson’s cross-field kick to bounce
and fall nicely for Danielle Waterman to retrieve and find a way over for Team
GB to take the lead.
Ghislaine Landry spotted a gap to dart
through for Canada’s second try and they never looked back after that, Bianca
Farella adding a third while Team GB captain Emily Scarratt was in the sin-bin
and Kelly Russell then making the most of an error at the breakdown to make it
26-5 at half-time.
With Canada dominating the breakdown with
their physicality, it was always going to be a huge mountain for Great Britain
to climb if they were to turn the match around and they could only manage a try
from Jasmine Joyce. Landry added the final try to leave Canada celebrating a
bronze medal after a 33-10 victory.
USA finished fifth after defeating France
but this encounter took time to get going with neither side able to find a way
into their opponent’s 22 until five minutes were on the clock and France broke
through with Camille Grassineau touching down to give Les Bleues a 5-0
That lead had been wiped out within seconds
of the restart, though, when Alev Kelter converted her own try and the USA
never looked back once Jessica Javelet had left the French defence in her wake
down the touchline.
France, who had beaten Spain 24-12 in the
fifth place semi-finals earlier in the day, had no answer to the American
onslaught and it was left to Joanne Fa’avesi to wrap up the 19-5 victory to the
delight of their fans in the crowd.
Spain, the final team to qualify for Rio
2016 as repechage winners, ended their Olympic campaign on a winning note with
a 21-0 defeat of a tired-looking Fiji to claim seventh place overall.
Playmaker Patricia Garcia and Amaia Erbina,
who played in the Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing in 2014, put Spain in control
in the first half to live Fiji coach Chris Cracknell to challenge his players
at half-time to “show what it meant to them” at half-time.
Fiji, beaten 12-7 by USA in their fifth
place semi-final, did enjoy more of the ball but simply couldn’t find a way
through and instead it was Iera Echebarria who crossed at the end for Las
Leonas to complete what was a comfortable victory.