Sarah Hirini led from the front as the New Zealand women’s sevens rugby team won the Olympic gold medal today.
The New Zealanders outplayed France 26-12 in the final to win the gold that eluded them in Rio five years ago, when they lost the final to Australia.
Hirini was an inspirational figure throughout the tournament, and never more than in the final. It was a good break by her that led to Michaela Blyde scoring New Zealand’s first try – and her seventh of the tournament - and she was a constant thorn in the French defence.
After being pushed right to their limit to beat Fiji in extra time in the semi-final, New Zealand had a more comfortable time of it in the final.
France had some talented athletes, most particularly Anna Cecil Ciofani, who scored one try, but they were generally well contained by the tigerish New Zealand defence.
After France pulled it back to 7-5 with a try to Caroline Drouin, Gayle Broughton responded well, making use of limited space down the left to score.
On the tick of halftime Stacey Fluhler broke French hearts by running hard and straight and splitting the French defence to score under the posts and stretch the lead to 19-5.
In the second half there was the Ciofani, but Tyla Nathan-Wong, who had a very energetic game, responded with some quick work near the French line to dart over for New Zealand’s fourth try, which she converted.
Though they won the final well, it hasn’t been all smooth sailing for the New Zealanders. Britain led them 21-0 in a pool match and Fiji must still be asking themselves how they lost the semi-final.
But the New Zealand team has a special spirit, as Hirini alluded to afterwards.
“There’s a special bond between us,” she said. “Our team have been through a lot over the last five years. It was our mission to bring home the gold and I could not be more proud. This is a very special group; we’re like family.”
Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games