New Zealand tears flowed on Rio’s Deodoro Stadium as their Olympic women’s sevens rugby dream was shattered by a powerhouse Australian side.
Tournament favourites Australia won the gold medal with a 24-17 win over New Zealand in a final tinged with controversy, but won by the better team. It meant silver medals for New Zealand, four and a half years after their campaign began for sevens’ first Olympic appearance under coach Sean Horan.
New Zealand were down and out at 24-5, and scored two late tries to narrow the gap when the game was all over. Portia Woodman crossed for her 10th try of the tournament on the stroke of fulltime, then sank to her knees and broke down in tears as the Australians celebrated wildly.
World series champions Australia had the wood on New Zealand in their recent meetings: the latest a 14-5 win in the semifinals in Clermont in May. In fact New Zealand hadn’t beaten their trans-Tasman rivals since February 2015, with Australia leading the overall ledger 7-5 between the sides.
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The match turned on a controversial call by Spanish referee Alhambra Nievas for Australia’s opening try, with New Zealand up 5-0 via Kayla McAlister.
Australia’s Emma Tanigato dived over out wide and Nievas awarded the try after consulting with her assistants who gave the nod. Replays showed Tanigato fumbled in the act of scoring but it was too late.
It swung the momentum, after Tyla Nathan-Wong had pulled off a try-saving tackle and captain Sarah Goss forced a turnover. Goss was immense on attack and defence for New Zealand.
Woodman was then yellow carded for a deliberate knock-on just before halftime which knocked more stuffing out of the New Zealanders.
Evania Pelite capitalised on the overlap to score out wide on the stroke of halftime and make it 10-5.
Ellia Green scorched away for a long range try soon after halftime and at 17-5 Australia had the match won. Woodman knocked on from the kickoff and it was all turning to custard for New Zealand.
Charlotte Coslick then capitalised on more Australian pressure to plunge over and at 24-5 silver was New Zealand’s lot.
The pre-match anthems had a noticeable contrast with the confident Australians smiling and laughing, while the New Zealanders had their game faces on. One of the stars of the tournament, Woodman had tears in her eyes as God Defend New Zealand was played.
There was high profile support for the women in black, too, with former All Blacks captain Richie McCaw pitchside in Rio.
New Zealand scraped through the quarterfinals with a 5-0 win over USA but were more convincing in the semifinals with a 25-7 win over Great Britain when they scored five tries to one.
Australia beat Canada 17-5 in the other semi, and the Canadians went on to clinch the bronze medal in convincing fashion with a 33-10 win over Great Britain.