VANCOUVER (AP) — The New Zealand women’s team has assured itself of a place at the 2024 Paris Olympics after beating Australia 19-12 on Sunday in the final of the Vancouver stop on the World Rugby Sevens Series.
New Zealand’s fourth consecutive title in this season's World Series has taken it 14 points clear of Australia in the standings. The top four teams in the men's and women's series at the end of the season qualify automatically for the Olympics. With only two women's tournaments remaining at Hong Kong and Toulouse, New Zealand is assured of a top four place.
Argentina scored two late tries from kicks to beat France 33-21 in the men’s final for its second title in the World Sevens Series this season.
New Zealand has retained the overall series lead after finishing in fifth place but after starting the tournament 21 points ahead of Argentina, its lead has been cut to 12 points.
Only 14 points separate the third and ninth-placed men’s teams with tournaments remaining at Hong Kong, Singapore, Toulouse and London.
The 2020 Olympic champion New Zealand women now have won at their last four Series stops at Cape Town, Hamilton, Sydney and at Vancouver. Sunday’s was their third final against Australia this season and their 21st against Australia since the series began.
Both teams appeared nervous and made handling errors at the start of the match. New Zealand’s first try came in unusual circumstances: when Georgia Miller crossed Australia’s line and was about to force the ball, it was knocked out of her hands by a tackler. Australia was penalized in the subsequent ruck and New Zealand captain Sarah Hirini reacted, taking a quick tap to score.
Australia replied immediately through Madison Ashby who took the ball on the left side, propped and stepped past two defenders on her way to the line.
Hirini’s offload created a try for Stacey Waaka which gave New Zealand a 14-7 lead at halftime.
Miller made up for her early mistake to score New Zealand’s third try and make their lead 19-7 after two minutes of the second half.
Australia rallied again with a try to Charlotte Caslick which made the score 19-12 and gave her team a chance with three minutes remaining. But New Zealand was able to control the late possession and hold for the win.
“We came here wanting to tick off qualifying for the Olympics and doing that and bringing a trophy back to New Zealand is really exciting,” Hirini said.
While Argentina was aiming for its second title of the season in the men’s final, France was playing in its first final in this year’s series and seeking its first title since 2005.
France had an overwhelming share of possession throughout the match and attacked methodically by building phases. But Argentina again was able to rely on moments of brilliance from players such as Marcos Moneta, who began the match with an intercept try; his 25th try of the season.
The match then produced a thrilling exchange of tries until the teams were locked at 21-21. Argentina went to its kicking game in the last two minutes and created tries to Tobias Wade and Agustin Fraga to seal its win.
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