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 Monday.
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 wtih a win over Colombia.
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 half-time lead.
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.
With thanks to World Rugby