RIO DE JANEIRO, Aug 6 (Reuters) - Rugby, a sport so often played in mud and rain, returned to the Olympics in brilliant Rio sunshine on Saturday morning when France beat Spain in the opening match of the women’s sevens tournament to end a 92-year absence from the Games.
A small but enthusiastic crowd gathered in the sun-baked 15,000-seater Deodoro stadium to witness the first Olympic rugby action since the United States beat France to win gold in the men’s 15-aside game at the 1924 Paris Games.
Spain’s Patricia Garcia had the honour of taking the first kickoff in a women’s rugby match at the Olympic Games but thereafter the French dominated, running in four tries to open their Pool B campaign with a convincing 24-7 win.
Camille Grassineau scored the opening try in the third minute and Lina Guerin, Caroline Ladagnous and Elodie Guiglion also crossed.
Garcia managed to get Spain, the last of the 12 women’s sides to qualify for the Games, on the board in the second half but they were unable to contain the power of the French.
Few sides are likely to be able to cope with the strength and pace of New Zealand either over the three days of competition and the Pool B favourites opened their campaign with an eight-try 52-0 thumping of Kenya in the second match.
New Zealand’s try-scoring phenomenon Portia Woodman took only 30 seconds to get on the board and she added two more tries after halftime to clinch rugby’s first Olympic hat-trick of the modern era.
Woodman, whose father Kawhena and uncle Fred both played on the wing for the All Blacks, also turned provider for one try and botched another with the line at her mercy.
“Think there was a bit of nerves, you saw there was a bit of a fumble there,” she said.
“But you have to scratch that and get on with it. The atmosphere was awesome.”
The atmosphere moved up a notch, and the crowd grew threefold, when Brazil took on Britain in the opening Pool B match but the majority of fans were to be disappointed as the hosts lost 29-3.
World Rugby is hoping the return to the Olympics will lead to a massive expansion of the sport outside its traditional heartlands, particularly in the women’s game.
“It was more emotional than technical, but we are here,” World Rugby vice chairman Agustin Pichot told Reuters after watching the first two games. (Editing by Ed Osmond)