Rugby has been absent from the Olympics for 92 years and rugby sevens has never featured at the Games, making Australia’s gold medal win over New Zealand a historic Olympic moment.
Australia were crowned the first ever Olympic rugby sevens champions after beating New Zealand 24-17 in the final of the women’s tournament in Rio on Monday.
The favourites outscored the Kiwis by four tries to three, two of them coming each side of half-time when star New Zealand winger Portia Woodman was in the sin bin for a deliberate knock-on.
The tournament marked the first time since 1924 that rugby has been played at the Olympics and the debut for sevens, the previous four incarnations featuring men’s 15-a-side tournaments.
New Zealand, who beat Great Britain 25-7 in the semi-final, opened the scoring through barn-storming centre Kayla McAlister, sister of Toulouse-based former All Black Luke.
In a hard-hitting encounter, Kiwi sweeper Tyla Nathan-Wong tracked back superbly to drag down Australian flyer Emma Tonegato with the line beckoning.
But Tonegato was on hand from a resulting penalty to scramble over in the corner to draw the scores level.
Woodman was yellow carded on the stroke of half-time and Australia immediately capitalised, Evania Pelite sprinting down the left flank to take her side into a 10-5 lead.
The final, played out under the watchful eyes of World Rugby president Bill Beaumont and assorted rugby illuminati, proved to be a compelling match featuring the two best sides by far in the competition, both having displayed fitness levels and skillsets largely superior to the 10 other teams.
That was shown to startling effect three minutes into the second-half as the outstanding Charlotte Caslick combined with Emilee Cherry to put Ellia Green away for Australia’s third try, with Chloe Dalton converting.
Caslick, whose mazy running has made her one of the most dangerous players in the tournament, slid over for her own deserved try shortly after, Dalton again converting.
McAlister grabbed her second with less than two minutes to play while Woodman, the all-time leading try-scorer in World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series history having scored 119 tries over four seasons, took her tournament tally to a leading 10 with a consolation effort on the hooter.
New Zealand left the field after an emotional post-match haka wardance during which some of their players were crying.
Canada, who had gone down 22-0 to Britain in pool play, dominated the British 33-10 to claim bronze.