History made in Rio

by AFP

France's Camille Grassineau made history Saturday with the tournament's first try as rugby sevens made its debut at the Olympic Games.

Grassineau was put through for an easy run in past a stretched Spanish defence after three minutes of play in front of a sparse crowd of barely 1,000 at the 15,000-capacity Deodoro Stadium that included World Rugby president Bill Beaumont.

World Rugby says it has sold two-thirds of the tickets for the sevens tournament.

France went on to win the opening encounter 24-7 thanks to further tries from Lina Guerin, Caroline Ladagnous and Elodie Guiglion.France crossed for the first Olympic try. Photo: AFP

"It was the first match of rugby in the Olympic Games in almost 100 years, a souvenir of having played the first game and having won it," said France coach David Courteix.

It was indeed the first time since 1924 that rugby has been played at the Olympics and the debut for sevens, the previous four incarnations featuring men's 15-a-side tournaments.

Despite ambitious early attempts by the stadium announcer to get the crowd to sing along to Neil Diamond's 'Sweet Caroline', adopted on the global Sevens Series as one of the sport's anthems, there was a muted reception for the two teams in blistering condition with temperatures hitting 30 degrees celsius.

But the crowd had swelled for the next game featuring New Zealand, for whom star winger Portia Woodman crossed for a hat-trick of tries as they brushed Kenya aside 52-0.

"I just want to get that ball and run like heck," said Woodman, a former netball player who is now the all-time leading try-scorer in World Rugby Women's Sevens Series history having scored 119 tries over four seasons.

"It's a good statement," she added. "The atmosphere's awesome and I'm just glad to see our Kiwi flag up there and fans out there. It's the Olympics and I'm so excited."

Hosts Brazil were next up, the increasingly vocal local crowd jeering every time Britain touched the ball.

The heckling was not enough, however, as the British overcame some stubborn first-half defence to run out convincing 29-3 winners.

Top seeds Australia will play the United States, Fiji and Colombia in Pool A while New Zealand, France, Spain and Kenya contest Pool B. Canada, Britain, Brazil and Japan complete the field in Pool C. The top two teams from each pool qualify for the knockout rounds, along with the two best third-placed sides.

The men's competition gets under way on Tuesday, with favourites Fiji set for a battle royale for gold with New Zealand, South Africa, Australia and Britain.