In the first women’s rugby final played at the Olympics, the top-ranked Australians dismantled the Kiwi side with their superior pace and skill in the four-tries-to-three win at Deodoro Stadium.
The team, made up of largely former touch football players who were recruited five years ago, produced a brilliant display of attacking sevens and were also able to negate their opponents’ strengths.
New Zealand coach Sean Horan had added spice to the contest prior to kickoff by claiming the Aussie women “don’t like to be pressured” and don’t like the physical side of the game.
But Australia showed they were up for the fight by taking the ball to the line, making heavy contact and also counter-rucking for turnovers.
New Zealand star Kayla McAlister opened the scoring after four pressure-soaked minutes but the Aussies were quick to put their stamp on the game by dominating possession thereafter.
Winger Emma Tonegato scored her seventh try for the tournament by touching down in the corner for a controversial try which appeared to be knocked on over the line.
The turning point in the match came a minute later when explosive Kiwi winger Portia Woodman was sin-binned for knocking down a pass that would have put Ellia Green away.
While she was off the field, Australia pounced with Evania Pelite and Green scoring for a 17-5 lead.
Unlike the Wallabies, who often get overrun by the All Blacks, this Australian rugby side was able to seal the deal.
Playmaker Charlotte Caslick, Australia’s player of the tournament, guaranteed the result by slicing over with just four minutes to play.
McAlister and Woodman scored consolation tries to make for a more favourable scoreline for the second seeds.
It was only the second time the trans-Tasman rivals have played off for Olympic gold in a team sport after New Zealand beat the Kookaburras in the hockey final at the 1976 Montreal Games.
Ecstatic Australian coach Tim Walsh was full of praise for his players and lauded their confidence to perform on the big stage.
“It was really well deserved and I’m so happy for the girls,” he said.
“We knew that if we performed we were going to win and they performed.”
Walsh said Horan’s pre-match comments were used as a motivator by his team.
“It was noted, and he’s not the only one because there’s a lot of teams that take us that way,” he said.
“But just because they’re touch players and they wear ribbons and pig-tails and sing songs does not mean they’re not world class rugby players and ruthless in defence and they proved that to everybody.”
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