Aussie women win rugby gold
Australia has created history by winning the first ever Olympic gold medal in rugby sevens. It beat arch-rival New Zealand 24-17 in the women’s final while Canada took bronze by beating Great Britain. The men’s competition begins tomorrow.
Among the spectators at Deodoro Stadium was All Blacks legend Richie McCaw, who said “you just look at all the people here and this part of the world probably doesn’t see a lot of rugby”.
Sevens rugby is an adapted format from the traditional 15-a-side game. It is fast paced, with seven players per side and seven minute halves, except for the final which has 10 minute halves.
The 15-player version appeared at the Olympics between 1900 and 1924 but in 2009, rugby sevens was voted in for the Rio 2016 Games.
The CEO of World Rugby, Brett Gosper, said “We’re so excited to be here at the Olympics. It’s been a long wait but we’ve been planning since 2009 and it’s just spectacular to be here”.
One of the gold-medallists, Shannon Parry, plays as a flanker for the team nicknamed the Pearls and she talked of her satisfaction of being able to make a career out of a sport that was only in its embryonic stages just a few years ago.
“It’s incredible to be honest. We’ve worked very hard for this. This tournament shows the growth of women’s rugby. When I started playing the game, women’s rugby wasn’t very big. It was very much a minority sport and to think, eight years down the track, I’m not an Olympian. I play rugby full-time, as a full-time job and a full time profession”, said 26 year old Parry.
Even Hariana Manuel from the losing New Zealand team could not hide her jubilation. “It feels amazing representing my country. We’re in the black jersey wherever we are. But obviously the Olympics is the pinnacle of all sports, so it’s a huge honour.”
Unfortunately the crowd numbers were not to capacity with Gosper estimating “we’ve been running at about 60% I’d say, at best. We’re hoping to move that up to 75% with the final and the final games, then the men’s start tomorrow”.
One factor could have been the location with Deodoro in the north of Rio, requiring a train ride and a long walk from the station just to get to the stadium. Either that or maybe sevens rugby has not quite captured the locals’ imagination just yet.
All eyes now turn to the men’s tournament which also runs over three-days. Fiji are red hot favourites and if they do go all the way, it could be their first Olympic gold medal in any sport!