Australia’s women’s sevens team celebrate winning the inaugural Olympic Games women’s rugby sevens gold medal with a 24-17 victory over New Zealand.
Olympic Games history was made as Australia struck gold in the women’s rugby sevens competition at the Deodoro Stadium on Monday.
In defeating New Zealand 24-17 in a high-quality and frenetic final, Australia became rugby’s first Olympic Games gold medallists in 92 years and the first-ever women’s rugby gold medal winners.
On a day of firsts, high drama and spectacular sevens, rugby was the winner. It may have been seven years in the making from inclusion on the Olympic programme, but the wait was worth every second and how the fans loved it.
In stark contrast to 1924 when rugby last appeared at the Games, sevens is made for the modern Olympic stage. It is fast, dynamic, action-packed with a carnival atmosphere and has showcased the very best of the top women’s sevens players in what is one of the world’s fastest-growing and most accessible team sports.
The dream final pitted the top two ranked teams in the world – Australia, the HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series champions, and world champions New Zealand – in a match of enormous intensity, drama and skill. With the knowledge that Olympic glory beckoned, no quarter was given nor asked.
Defence and determination dominated, but the skill was exceptional throughout. Kayla McAlister broke the deadlock for New Zealand midway through the first half, but Emma Tonegato hit back for Australia to level the scores at 5-5. Portia Woodman’s yellow card gave Australia the advantage and Evania Pelite scored on the stroke of half-time for a 10-5 lead.
After the interval, Australia extended their lead to 24-5 with tries by Ellia Green and Charlotte Caslick, before New Zealand launched a late rally. McAlister and Woodman clawed back the deficit, but Australia held out to take their place in history as rugby’s first gold medal winners since 1924.
Canada defeat Great Britain to win bronze
Canada made up for their semi-final disappointment to win bronze, defeating Great Britain 33-10 in a thrilling pre-cursor to the gold medal match. Once again, it was the sublime talent and leadership of Jen Kish that steered the Canadians through as Bianca Farella, Ghislaine Landry (2), Karen Paquin and Kelly Russell’s tries secured an historic bronze medal.
Semi-final: Australia 17-5 Canada
Series champions Australia continued to impress in their semi-final, defeating Canada 17-5. Leading 12-0 at the interval thanks to a brace by Emilee Cherry, Australia showed their series-winning class in the second half, adding a third try through Chloe Dalton before soaking up late Canada pressure to guarantee at least silver.
Semi-final: New Zealand 25-7 Great Britain
New Zealand eased into gold medal match after two yellow cards in the space of 30 seconds gave Great Britain an uphill battle from which they never recovered. A Portia Woodman hat-trick capped an irresistible performance for the world champions, with Ruby Tui and Huriana Manuel also crossing for tries.
In the other matches, USA were classified fifth after defeating France 19-5, while Spain claimed seventh with a 21-0 win over Fiji. For hosts Brazil there was extra reason to celebrate a solid competition as their impressive 33-5 win over Japan to finish ninth secured core team status for the 2016-17 HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series and opportunity for future success. Kenya defeated Colombia 22-10 to claim 11th place.
For rugby’s first Olympians in more than a lifetime, the honour to compete on sport’s greatest stage was victory in itself and all will reflect on playing their part in making history in what has already been heralded as a game-changing event.
Beaumont hails world’s top women players
World Rugby Chairman Bill Beaumont said: “We have seen women’s rugby launched on a truly global stage. Stars have been born, unforgettable moments created and fans entertained.
“Congratulations to our gold medallists Australia, but to all our women Olympians, thank you, you have made your families, nations and rugby proud. You have made history.
“This competition has demonstrated the very best of rugby and its character-building values. I am sure that we have reached, engaged and inspired new women and girls across the world and we are excited to welcome them to the rugby family.”