The Youth Olympic Games rugby sevens competition came to a scintillating conclusion as New Zealand and Argentina wonthe women’s and men’s gold medals respectively in front of a loud and enthusiastic full house at Club Atlético San Isidro La Boya in Buenos Aires.
New Zealand’s women claimed the gold medal with a hard fought 15-12 victory over France, while Argentina ran out deserved Youth Olympic champions courtesy of a 24-14 win over France in the men’s final.
While France were forced to settle for silver in both competitions, the bronze medals went to Canada’s women after an exciting 24-19 victory over Colombia, and Japan’s men following a convincing 28-5 win against South Africa.
In the presence of International Olympic Committee (IOC)President Thomas Bach, hosted by World Rugby Vice Chairman Agustín Pichot, the two finals showcased the very best of the speed, skill and drama of rugby sevens, with the most consistent teams throughout the three-day event coming out on top.
New Zealand controlled the women’s section from day one with an 100 per cent win record. But the final game proved to be the toughest test of all with France proving to be a tricky opponent, pushing the young Black Ferns to the limit asFrance went ahead 12-10 after two minutes of the second half.
However New Zealand dug deep and swung the game back in their favour in the dying minutes, touching down through Mahina Paul to seal the victory and break French hearts.
“It feels really surreal to have the medals around our necks,” said New Zealand player Tiana Davidson. “It took a lot of hard work and determination to get here so it feels amazing to take it home.We were the champions because we are a sisterhood and we thrive on everything we have in front.”
Cheered on by a rapturous home crowd, Argentina were the outstanding team in the men’s competition throughout the tournament, beating all opposition during their six matches across three days. The final against France was a tough encounter, but the team captained by 17-year old Juan González ultimately brought the crowd to its feet with victory.
After Argentina established a 19-0 lead in the first half, France started the second half strongly and in four minutes had narrowed the score line to 19-14 following two converted tries under posts.
However France were made to pay for ill discipline after anuntimely yellow card cost them dearly as Argentina scored the final try through Ramiro Costa to clinch a much-celebrated gold medal.
“We worked for almost three years for this and we are delighted to have achieved the goal,” said coach Lucas Borges. “These players will certainly go places in the future.”
Earlier in the day USA secured fifth place in the men’s competition with a 24-14 play-off win over Samoa while Kazakhstan finished fifth in the women’s tournament following a 12-0 victory against Tunisia.
World Rugby Vice Chairman Agustín Pichot said: “The key word is inspiration, and these young men and women were an inspiration to all of us. We all enjoyed three days of pure joy, fun and friendship, something that was clear to see for all.
“On a personal note, having the Youth Olympic Games at my club is like coming full circle, having started playing here so many years ago, I am extremely happy.”
IOC President Thomas Bach attended the finals and was delighted with what he saw. “Rugby is such an exciting sport – and a great game today with a crowd to match. Great athleticism and a format that means the score can change in an instant. It’s wonderful for the crowd and keeps them on the edge of their seats from beginning to end.”
Olympic inclusion has had a profound effect on rugby sevens, following the sport’s successful introduction at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games recent Nielsen research has estimated that the rugby sevens fan-base grew by more than 30 million as a result, expanding international reach, with emerging markets such as USA, China, India and Brazil showing substantial growth.
Buenos Aires 2018 is the third edition of the Youth Olympic Games and marks the second time rugby sevens has been part of the sports programme following its introduction in Nanjing four years earlier. World Rugby is already looking ahead to Senegal 2022 and the next edition of the Youth Olympic Games.