The New Zealand women’s sevens rugby team had to repel a formidable challenge from Great Britain to emerge from their first day unscathed.
It required a converted try in the last minute for them to win 26-21.
After beating Kenya comprehensively in their first match, the New Zealanders were expected to be too strong for the British.
But within five minutes Britain led 21-0 and the top-seeded New Zealanders looked headed for a heavy defeat.
Instead they calmly fought their way back and, with Michaela Blyde contributing three tries, edged ahead right on fulltime.
It was a thrilling match with plenty of movement, seven tries and the sniff of an upset.
New Zealand tackled poorly in the first few minutes and allowed Helena Rowland, Megan Jones and Jasmine Joyce to score tries, all converted by Holly Aitchison.
In the sixth minute Blyde got into the action, running down the left from halfway and outpacing the British defenders to score.
A minute later she was at it again after some good passing by the New Zealanders and as everyone drew breath at halftime, it was 21-12 to Britain.
Four minutes into the second spell Tyla Nathan-Wong took a tap penalty, dummied and raced to the tryline. Nanoseconds later she converted and it was 21-19.
Into the last minute and the British were down to six players after Joyce was carded. Blyde doesn’t need much space, and now she had plenty. Soon enough she’d scored her third try and New Zealand were 26-21 winners.
Nathan-Wong said later she never felt New Zealand were out of the contest. “Even at 21-0 down, I felt we were still in it. The black jersey and our names on the back, it means so much to us and we’re never going to let any of that down.”
She said it was New Zealand mistakes that allowed the British to make such a flying start. “If you don’t have the ball, you can’t score. We know what we did wrong and we’ll clean it up for tomorrow. It was simple, basic handling errors.”
Nathan-Wong certainly didn’t seem stressed about the close shave. “We had a slight lapse. We all do it sometimes. No-one’s perfect. It’s how you pick yourself up. We’re all athletes, but we’re humans too. We could’ve let it get to us, but we didn’t.”
The topsy-turvy match against Britain was in contrast to New Zealand’s 29-7 win over Kenya earlier.
Stacey Fuller set things rolling by scoring a try after just 52 seconds and there were more first half tries by Blyde and Portia Woodman, who is seldom off the try-scoring sheet for long.
Kenya got on the board on the stroke of halftime with a try by Lindo Christabel and it was 17-7 at the break.
After only a minute of the second half Blyde had her second try, followed soon after by another to Gayle Broughton. New Zealand’s other points came from two conversions by Nathan-Wong.
The New Zealanders, silver medallists in Rio five years ago, had too much pace and precision for Kenya, who tired noticeably in the second half.Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games Rugby - Sevens