As the reigning World Cup champions, World Series champions, Commonwealth Games champions and 2016 Olympic silver medalists, an Olympic gold medal was the only accolade to elude a team that can now take its place as the greatest women’s sevens side in the history of the game.
While the gold medal was clinched in decisive fashion with a 26-12 victory over France in the final, it wasn’t plain sailing throughout the grueling three-day tournament in the Tokyo heat and rain.
On day one, the Allan Bunting-coached side had to comeback from a 21-0 deficit to defeat Great Britain 26-21. If that wasn’t nerve-wracking enough, today’s semifinal against Fiji went to extra-time.
With the score locked at 17-17 at the end of regular time, Gayle Broughton secured New Zealand’s passage through to the final with a golden point try.
New Zealand fans wouldn’t have had many fingernails left heading into the final, and thankfully there were no major heart palpitations to be had as New Zealand completed a clinical 26-12 victory.
It took New Zealand just two minutes to strike as skipper Sarah Hirini broke the line to feed speedster Michaela Blyde for the opening try of the final. Two more tries in the first half to Gayle Broughton and Stacey Fluhler stretched New Zealand to a commanding 19-5 lead at the break.
France needed to score first in the second half to have any chance of overcoming the black wave and did just that when Anne-Ceile Ciofani crossed out wide to close the gap to 19-12.
The rest of the half belonged to New Zealand as they controlled the tempo and territory to frustrate France before Tyla Nathan-Wong scored the match-clinching try late in the second half.
Captain Sarah Hirini said the team’s unbreakable bond had contributed strongly to the Olympic success.
“It’s such a special group, this is the last time we will be playing together as a team. Our team is so special and we love to have a good time and that’s probably the most important thing for us,” Hirini said.
In the bronze medal match, Fiji took out Great Britain 21-12 to back up the gold medal won by their men’s side earlier in the games.
New Zealand 22 (Gayle Broughton 2, Stacey Fluhler, Portia Woodman tries, Tyla Nathan-Wong con)
Fiji 17 (Reapi Ulunasau, Vasiti Solikoviti try, con, Viniana Riwai)
New Zealand 26 (Michaela Blyde, Gayle Broughton, Stacey Fluhler tries, Tyla Nathan-Wong try, 3 con)
France 12 (Caroline Drouin try, con, Anne-Cecile Ciofani try)
HT: 19 -5