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1ST LEAD Australia win first women's Olympic rugby gold as sport rejoins Games By Albert Otti, dpa

Europe
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Rio de Janeiro (dpa) - It was a historical final between the two fierce rivals on Monday in Rio de Janeiro, as Australia beat New Zealand 24-17 for the first womens‘ rugby sevens gold medal awarded in Olympic history.

Rugby returned to the Olympics this year, 92 years after the last men‘s tournament, but the Rio tournament‘s unequal results among teams showed that this is not yet a global sport.

However, the winners were elated. "It‘s incredible," Australian player Shannon Perry said about her team‘s victory, and about the fact that rugby is an Olympic sport again.

"I think this tournament just shows the growth of women‘s rugby."

The version played in Rio has just seven players on each side for 14-minute matches and a 20-minute final, rather than the traditional version with 15-strong teams and longer play times.

"It‘s quick, it‘s fast. You have a small attention span? It‘s great, this sport is for you - watch it," said Canadian Captain Jennifer Kish, whose side won bronze by beating Britain 33-10.

In the final, reigning world series champion Australia dominated throughout most of the match against the world‘s number two.

New Zealand‘s Kayla McAlister scored the game‘s first five points as she broke through the tight Australian defense at the goal line.

However, Emma Tonegato got a controversial equalizer, and Evania Pelite secured the 10-5 half-time score.

Throughout the game, New Zealand seemed nervous and unsure of themselves, with players throwing imprecise passes, and taking opponents heads on rather than passing.

Early in the second half, Australia‘s Ellia Green showed off her formidable speed and raced to the goal line nearly unimpeded, widening the lead to 15-5, with Charlotte Caslick making it 24-15.

Green, also known as the "Green Machine," was a sprinter until about four years ago, when she was discovered at a try-out for potential Olympian rugby players.

McAlister, who also started playing the sport only in 2012, scored a try in the last minutes, followed by another one by fellow New Zealander Portia Woodman, and a goal conversion at the very last second by team-mate Tyla Nathan-Wong.

However, this final jolt of energy came too late to turn the game around.

While the final and the match for bronze were dominated by four Commonwealth countries with strong rugby traditions, Spain, France, Fiji and the United States were eliminated in the quarter-finals.

Colombia, Kenya, Brazil and Japan already fell by the wayside in the group phase. Their matches resulted in extremely unequal scores against the stronger teams, highlighting that the sport‘s geographic reach and appeal is still very limited.

The fans did their best to show off rugby seven‘s quirky side.

Supporters often wear elaborate costumes to tournaments, and the Rio Games were no exception.

A large Australian fan sported neon leopard-print bermudas, giant sunglasses, and his national flag draped over this back, while a New Zealand supporter wearing a full-body Kiwi bird costume acted as a kind of cheerleader for his side.

Some US fans squeezed themselves into racy star-spangled body suits.

However, the Brazilian spectators hardly reacted to the spectacle on and off the pitch.

Australian coach Tim Walsh said he was optimistic that rugby sevens would remain Olympic, but he acknowledged that there is work to do.

"In the world series, I do believe we need some more tournaments to make sure that other teams can participate, and that the current teams are getting more competition," he said.

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