Olympics-Rugby-New Zealand claim Sevens gold with victory over France

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By Mayu Sakoda

TOKYO (Reuters) -New Zealand claimed their first ever gold medal in Olympic Rugby Sevens with a 26-12 victory over France in the final of the women’s competition at Tokyo Stadium on Saturday.

Fiji earlier followed up their gold in the men’s competition with a bronze in the women's event, beating Britain 21-12 in the third-place playoff, having narrowly lost a pulsating semi-final against New Zealand.

New Zealand won the silver medal at the Olympics five years ago, and another silver in the men’s competition in Tokyo, but finally they have their gold.

"I have looked at my silver medal (from Rio 2016) every day since I have been here," New Zealand's Ruby Tui told reporters.

"The gold is a metaphor for a dream about positive thinking. It is not just the gold medal but how we have grown since. You just have to believe."

They controlled possession early in the final and got their reward when captain Sarah Hirini released the speedy Michaela Blyde to score the opening try.

New Zealand’s pace was creating space in wide areas and Gayle Broughton managed to dive over in the corner, before Stacey Fluhler carved through the French defence to give her side a 19-5 halftime lead.

Anne-Cecile Ciofani kept France in the contest with a try, but New Zealand restored their 14-point advantage when Tyla Nathan-Wong crossed between the posts.

"We wanted to win the gold and right now we feel really disappointed. But maybe in the future we will feel happy about winning the silver," France's Caroline Drouin said.

Fiji struck first in the bronze medal match when Alowesi Nakoci crossed under the posts early before they soaked up pressure inside their own 22 from Britain for a full four minutes with some excellent defence.

When the Pacific islanders were finally able to break out with quick hands on the right wing, Nakoci raced in for a second score, before Megan Jones dotted down for Britain to make it 14-5.

The game was made safe for Fiji when Reapi Ulunisau burst through a gap in Britain's defence and streaked away for a try.

It is a second successive fourth-place finish at the Olympics for the British women after they also lost the bronze-medal match in 2016.

"It's a massive, massive achievement," Fiji coach Saiasi Fuli said. "The efforts shown by our girls. It was a tough, tough journey. This is the 16th week we haven't seen our families.

"For three or four of them, it was their first time flying out of Fiji. It is a big challenge for us to manage that and play well."

(Writing by Nick Said; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman/Hugh Lawson/Ken Ferris)

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