RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — A full day earlier than he really wanted to, Australia coach Tim Walsh had to send a runner out to his goalkicker with a very important message: This is for the gold medal.
There was no Olympic medal to win in rugby sevens on Sunday, but there was plenty to lose for the Australians.
The women's world series champions were seconds away from a shocking loss to the United States in the last group match of the tournament. Emma Tonegato reached over to score in the last minute to cut the margin to two points, leaving Chloe Dalton needing to kick the conversion to avoid the loss.
"I sent a message out to Chloe before she kicked saying, 'This is for the gold medal, so keep your head down and slot this,' and she did," Walsh said. "I think she really likes the pressure."
Walsh said the 12-12 draw with the Americans was "was definitely the kick up the pants that we needed going into the quarterfinals."
A loss wouldn't have changed the quarterfinal standings, but it would have dented the aura the Australians developed with a dominating run in the world series.
The draw was followed by a 24-0 victory over Spain, putting Australia into a semifinal match against Canada on Monday. The winner will advance to a night final against either Britain or second-seeded New Zealand, which struggled to hold off the United States 5-0 in the last of the quarterfinals.
With rugby back in the Olympics for the first time in 92 years, a women's team will claim the first gold medal ever awarded in sevens.
The Australian players have been living and training together for more than a year to prepare for it.
"Now, we're playing for a medal. We're not happy with a bronze or a silver, we want a gold," Walsh said. "But most of all, we want to walk off that field without any regret. We've created the opportunity, and now it's up to us to take it."
Tonegato scored the first try against Spain, following up her double against the Americans, and Charlotte Caslick crossed twice, including a solo, long-range try. Both have six tries for the tournament, level with Portia Woodman of New Zealand.
Ellia Green, who had to leave the field in the first minute against the Americans after a clash of heads, returned in the second half against Spain and scored late — a bustling, confidence-boosting try for the fastest woman in world rugby.
"Yesterday we were pretty well polished. Today, we grinded for our wins, which is what good teams need to do," Walsh said. "Tomorrow we'll be ready to lift it up again and take it to a new level."
Caslick said the Australian team had lifted its intensity after the close call against the Americans, when her desperate covering tackle saved an almost certain try that would have significantly altered the outcome.
"To get through that one, and to know tomorrow we'll be playing for a medal regardless of the outcome of our first game is pretty amazing," Caslick said. "But obviously we came here to win gold."