US beats Australia, China reaches quarterfinals in rugby 7s

TOKYO (AP) — Cheta Emba finished off an attacking move with a powerful burst, Abby Gustaitis scored the clincher and the United States became the first team to beat defending champion Australia in Olympic women's rugby sevens competition on Friday.

The American players hugged and exchanged high-fives after rallying from 12 points down in the second half to edge the 2016 gold medalists 14-12, topping Pool C.

China also advanced from the group behind the U.S. and Australia, with some players sobbing as they discovered their 29-0 win over Japan was enough to reach the quarterfinals as one of the two best third-place teams.

Chen Keyi was talking to reporters when China's coach, Euan Mackintosh, confirmed the quarterfinal spot.

“Yes, no? Yes, really?” she asked, before she cried her happy tears. "It's so exciting — a dream come true.”

It was Mackintosh's target for China to reach the quarterfinals, but he explained the emotional response of his players by saying he didn't update them of the qualifying equation before the game.

“I didn’t want them thinking about the score,” he said. “Japan had a good game yesterday against the U.S. and we can’t underestimate anyone in the game of sevens.”

Clearly.

China and the Russian team are playing for the first time in Olympic rugby sevens, which was contested for the first time at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games.

The last session of the group stage was suspended for 90 minutes because of thunder and lightning around Tokyo Stadium immediately before the last scheduled game, prolonging the nerves for at least two teams. The Russian team needed to stay within 33 points of top-ranked New Zealand to guarantee progression and knock 2016 bronze medalist Canada out of medal contention.

New Zealand won 33-0, meaning then Russians sneaked through in eighth place. They'll have to play New Zealand again in the quarterfinals.

The United States will play Britain, Australia will take on Fiji and unbeaten France meets China in the other quarterfinal matches.

It’s that kind of sport.

With each team playing two, 14-minute games daily for three days, standings and scenarios can change rapidly in the rugby sevens competition.

The 26-year-old Chen said rugby didn't have a huge profile in China before the Tokyo Games, but the major broadcasters were televising it now.

“It’s a great impact on rugby in China,” she said.

The U.S. women gave the game in their country a boost, too, with the win over Australia following opening-day victories over China and Japan.

The Americans have been ranked as high as No. 2 in the world sevens series, so it's not a shocking result.

“It took everything we had. Just thankful we got the job done together,” Emba said, acknowledging that an Olympic medal is the next ambition. “There’s no limit when we do it together. That’s what it took today, and I think we tapped into it.”

For Canada, a preparation disrupted by forced shutdowns because of COVID-19 cases and a coaching overhaul, there's no chance of returning to the podium in Tokyo.

After opening with a 33-0 win over Brazil, the Canadians lost to Fiji 26-12 and to France 31-0.

Canada coach Mick Byrne, an Australian, said a necessary focus on getting back to fitness rather than playing competitive games leading into the Olympics had hurt the team's performance.

“This program was shut down in November and December, and we had all of May off," he said. "I’m not making excuses -- these are just facts of life. That’s a lot of time for players to lose condition.

"I can’t be disappointed with them because of the work they’ve done to get here today.”

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More AP Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2020-tokyo-olympics and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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