By Mayu Sakoda
TOKYO (Reuters) – Pre-tournament favourites Australia and New Zealand flexed their muscles with comprehensive victories in the opening matches in the women’s competition of the Olympic Rugby Sevens at the Tokyo Stadium on Thursday.
Defending champions Australia ran in eight tries as they defeated hosts Japan 48-0 in Pool C, with Emma Tonegato scoring a hat-trick. There were also two each for Demi Hayes and exciting teenager Maddison Levi.
The gold medal winners in Rio showed their potential to repeat that feat with a superb all-round display of power running and excellent hands in the hot and humid conditions.
“It was awesome to finally be out here, it’s obviously been a long time coming and we’re just stoked to get on the field,” Tonegato told reporters.
“We’re proud to keep them to zero and I couldn’t be happier with the team. The girls showed how good they are.”
In the other match in the pool, the United States eased past China 28-14 as Kristi Kirshe bagged a brace of tries in the second period after a tight first half.
New Zealand cruised to a 29-7 victory over physical Kenya in Pool A, Michaela Blyde scoring twice in a slick and professional performance to open their campaign.
Britain survived an almighty scare when captain Abbie Brown scored a try after the hooter at the end of the game to secure a 14-12 victory over Russia, who are competing as representatives of the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) because the country has been stripped of its flag and anthem for doping offences.
Keyara Wardley dotted down twice as Canada overcame a difficult first half against Brazil to run out comfortable 33-0 winners in Pool B. The Canadians, who were bronze medallists five years ago, are delighted to be back on the big stage.
“We’ve played one tournament in the last year-and-a-half,” Canadian co-captain Ghislaine Landry said. “I’ve not done that since I started playing as a kid, so at this point we’re so happy to be back on the field playing people other than our team mates.”
France defeated Fiji 12-5 in a tight opening match in the group.
The teams will be back in action with a second round of pool matches later on Thursday. The semi-finals and final will be played on Saturday.
(Reporting by Mayu Sakoda; Editing by Stephen Coates)