By Mayu Sakoda
TOKYO (Reuters) - Sensational speedster Michaela Blyde scored a hat-trick of tries as New Zealand roared back from 21-0 down to defeat Britain 26-21 and seal a quarter-final place in the women’s Olympic Sevens Rugby competition at the Tokyo Stadium on Thursday.
New Zealand looked uncharacteristically sloppy as Britain fed off their errors to score three early tries, but the Black Ferns’ got into gear and secured what will be, in the end, a morale-boosting victory in Pool A.
By contrast, defending champions Australia strolled into the quarter-finals after comprehensive Pool C wins over Japan (48-0) and China (26-10) in which they showcased their powerful running and skill with ball in hand without being unduly tested.
Australia entered the competition as favourites and there was nothing on day one to suggest they will not live up to that billing.
“We’ve been preparing for a long time now, and not been able to play, so winning has really built confidence in our performance,” Australia co-captain Sharni Williams told reporters.
“When you play, you have to build confidence and continuity to believe that you can win. We have three debutants and some girls haven’t played in finals, so it’s crucial for us.”
The United States joined them in the medal round after they also made it two wins from two on the opening day with a 17-7 victory over Japan.
A three-try first half burst from Fiji laid the platform for a 26-12 victory over Canada in Pool B as Reapi Ulunisau dotted down twice for the Pacific islanders to keep them on course for the quarter-finals following an opening match defeat to France.
Fiji’s Rusila Nagasau says the gold medal for the country in the men’s competition on Wednesday has inspired her teammates.
“That gave us a big boost, them winning back-to-back gold medals. We are trying to be the first Fiji women team to win the Olympic gold medal. We really enjoyed it,” Nagasau said.
The French sealed their place in the medal rounds with a comprehensive 40-5 win over Brazil as the impressive Lina Guerin and Anne-Cecile Ciofani bagged a brace each.
France have shown they are genuine medal contenders after losing to bronze medallists Canada in the quarter-finals five years ago, and could get their revenge and end the Canadians' hopes when they face off in a final pool match on Friday.
The final pool games and quarter-finals will be played on Friday, with the gold medal match set for Saturday.
(Reporting by Mayu Sakoda; Editing by Stephen Coates and Hugh Lawson)