RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) – As predicted, the first Olympic rugby sevens gold medal will be heading to either Australia or New Zealand.
In semifinal matches featuring the top four ranked teams, world series champion Australia beat Canada 17-5 on Monday and longtime women’s rugby front-runner New Zealand scored five tries in a 25-7 win over Britain, with Portia Woodman crossing for her second hat trick of the tournament.
After a shaky Sunday, when Australia needed a late equalizer in a 12-12 result against the United States to finish the group stage and New Zealand struggled to a 5-0 win over the Americans, narrowly avoiding a quarterfinal upset, the situation was back to normal with medals on the line.
Britain, which had been the most convincing performers on the second day, was undone by poor discipline on Day 3.
Woodman, New Zealand’s world series-leading tryscorer, put her team ahead in the second minute, beating two defenders en route to the line. Britain hit back after a turnover from Woodman to take the lead at 7-5 but then conceded a try and lost two players on consecutive penalties just before halftime.
Katy McLean was sin-binned for holding Woodman back as she chased a kicked ball toward the in-goal and Amy Wilson Hardy was yellow-carded soon after for tackling Ruby Tui in the air. Woodman exploited the overlap for tries just before and after halftime, giving New Zealand a 20-7 advantage when 7-on-7 parity was restored.
She now has a tournament-leading nine tries with one game to go.
Tyla Nathan-Wong missed all her conversion attempts, allowing Britain to stay in touch until Huriana Manuel scored near the end.
“We have one big match to go and we have to make sure we recover well bring it against the Aussies,” New Zealand captain Sarah Goss said.
Emilee Cherry scored twice in the first half for Australia, combining on the left with Emma Tonegato both times, for a 12-0 lead at the break.
Chloe Dalton made it 17-0 when she dived over in the left corner before Charity Williams ran the short side to score a consolation try for Canada.
The Australians won three of the five stops in the last world sevens series, and reached the final in another to be the dominant team of the season. But the New Zealanders all along said they were targeting all their preparations to peak in Rio de Janeiro, with rugby returning to the Olympics for the first time since a 15-a-side tournament in 1924.
Canada and Britain will play for bronze. The United States rallied to beat Fiji 12-7 in the fifth-place playoff.