Women's rugby star regrets costly yellow card in Rio final
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Portia Woodman ran behind the posts for yet another try, then dropped to her knees and cried.
She wept because she believed she cost her New Zealand side victory against Australia in the first Olympic gold-medal match in women's rugby sevens.
Australia won the final 24-17 Monday, scoring two tries while Woodman was in the sin-bin at Deodoro Stadium.
"The feeling of letting my team down, that's what got to me the most," Woodman said.
The women's game's biggest star, she was also the outstanding individual of the competition for scoring in all six of her matches — 10 tries in all, including two hat tricks. But late in the first half, she instinctively reached out behind her on defense to stop an Australian pass, causing a deliberate knock-on. She didn't wait for the referee to brandish the yellow card, running off the field immediately to serve two minutes on the sideline.
"I knew instantly (there'd be a yellow card)," she said. "It wasn't intentional, it was just a mistake, just a reaction, the ball was there."
While she was stewing with seconds to go in the half, Australia tapped the penalty, and went ahead 10-5 thanks to an overlap try to Evania Pelite where Woodman would have been patrolling.
Even without Woodman to start the second half, New Zealand seemed to have Australia pinned in its own half. Woodman was out for more than two minutes but couldn't go back in until there was a break in play, and was watching as Australia's Charlotte Caslick broke out and Ellia Green ended up scoring a converted try for 17-5.
That was still within New Zealand's comeback ability, but Woodman dropped the kickoff ball — "I didn't brush (the yellow card) off as quickly as I wanted to" — giving over possession which Australia ultimately used to score from a Caslick tap-and-go, effectively sealing the gold medal at 24-5 with less than four minutes to go.
After scoring the last try of the final, and falling to her knees, Woodman was comforted by teammates, who were also emotional. Woodman was one of several players who won the Sevens World Cup in 2013, and the New Zealand Rugby Union poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into their preparations. Winning New Zealand's first Olympic medal in a team sport in 40 years was only a little consolation.
"It's hard when you came for that gold, and it wasn't the performance that we really wanted," Woodman said. "It's a huge honor no matter what. Our mission for our team is to inspire the world with the black jersey, and we've done that. The world knows now that women's rugby is the real deal."
Woodman, the daughter and niece of All Blacks, switched from netball to rugby four years ago, and with power, pace and fancy footwork has become the all-time leading try-scorer with 119 in the four years of the women's world sevens series.
She was not finished with the Olympics.
"Oh yeah. I want to come back again in four years," she said. "I'm not feeling like this again, that's for sure."