New Zealand edges Fiji in extra time, faces France in final
TOKYO (AP) — Gayle Broughton spun out of two tackles and touched down as she rolled into the in-goal area in extra time to clinch a spot in the Olympic final for New Zealand, and let her nation regain its breath.
The New Zealanders entered the women’s rugby sevens competition as favorites to upgrade their silver from Rio de Janeiro to gold at the Tokyo Games.
But the top-ranked world sevens series champions got a serious fright from a determined Fijiana on Saturday, needing golden-point extra time to advance 22-17 into the final.
“That’s a soul effort — finding a way to win,” New Zealand coach Alan Bunting said. “I wish they’d do it another way.”
The New Zealanders will play France later Saturday for the gold medal, and Fiji will take on Britain for the bronze. No Fijian woman has ever won an Olympic medal, and that remains the team's goal.
France beat Britain 26-19 in the semifinals to maintain an unbeaten run that started with narrow victory over Fiji on Day 1.
Fiji entered the tournament with the No. 7 ranking and without the aura of their Pacific island nation’s men’s team, which has won back-to-back Olympic titles.
The Fijiana took out defending champion Australia in quarterfinals and beat 2016 bronze medalist Canada in the group stage.
They led New Zealand 7-5 at halftime, with Vasiti Solikoviti scoring near the posts in response to Broughton's opening try for New Zealand.
Solikoviti scored again to extend Fiji's lead to 12-5 before the New Zealanders hit back with tries from Portia Woodman and Stacey Fluhler to lead 17-12 with only seconds remaining. It wasn't over yet, though, with Reapi Ulunisau scoring in the corner to equalize and force extra time.
“Mentally proud of the girls, to dig deep, stay in there," Broughton said. "To be honest, we’ve been doing that same scenario for what feels like five years now.
“Sorry fans, for the second heart attack this tournament. We’re a whole country away, but I’m sure I can hear my grandmother somewhere in the crowd.”
Every neutral in the stadium — and, to be fair, there weren't many because of the ban on fans under coronavirus restrictions — seemed to be supporting a Fijian women's team that has started to embrace the one-handed offloads and tricky stepping game that are hallmarks of their national men's team.
“Putting our body on the line, just pride for Fiji,” Fiji captain Rusila Nagasau said. "It didn’t end the way we wanted, but I have to thank the ladies. Even though it was a tie, after 14 minutes, I want to thank the ladies for giving another extra."
The U.S. and Australia will meet for fifth place in a rematch of their Pool C decider, when the Americans rallied from two tries down to beat the 2016 gold medalists 14-12.
The pool decider Friday took a toll on both teams, with Australia later upset by Fiji in the quarterfinals and the U.S. losing to Britain.
The Americans finished off a 33-14 win over China on Saturday with Ilona Maher shoving away a Chinese defender to cross for her second try.
Australia beat the Russian team 36-0. That put the Russians into a playoff for seventh with China, the other team making its debut in the tournament.
The classifications for ninth-12th finished with Canada beating Kenya 24-10 for ninth and Brazil finishing with a 21-12 win over Japan, relegating the host team to last place.
The Japanese women's team formed a line and made a ceremonial bow toward the main grandstand, getting some polite applause. It has been a difficult tournament for Japan, which had high hopes of using home ground advantage to improve on its performance in Brazil.
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