TOKYO — The United States claimed a surprise 14-12 victory over fancied Australia in the women's Olympic Rugby Sevens on Friday to take top spot in Pool C and set the defending champions on a collision course with Fiji in the quarterfinals.
The end of the morning session was delayed by 90 minutes due to lightning around the Tokyo Stadium, but eventually the quarterfinal line-up was completed as the United States meet Britain, New Zealand are up against the team representing the Russian Olympic Committee and France tackle China.
The matches will be played later on Friday.
Canada, who were bronze-medalists in Rio five years ago, were the major casualties from the pool stages after a 31-0 loss to France saw them eliminated from the medal round.
"Our lack of competitive games came back to get us," Canada coach Mick Byrne told reporters. "We missed all of May with COVID-19. It would have been nice to focus on our game, but we had to get fit to prepare. We are just lacking match practice."
The United States rallied from 12-0 down to defeat pre-tournament favourites Australia, who looked to be coasting after tries from co-captain Sharni Williams and Demi Hayes.
But the U.S. squad showed grit and skill as they dominated the second period, scoring converted tries through Abby Gustaitis and Cheta Emba.
"We went two tries down but we didn't give up. We kept fighting and got the result," U.S. co-captain Kris Thomas said. "The more that we can be successful, the more eyes we will have on our game (back home)."
Australia's path to retaining their gold medal has become more complicated. They now face a side from Fiji — home of the men's Sevens gold medallists — that is getting better with each game and was ruthless in dismantling Brazil 41-5, scoring seven tries, including four from Reapi Ulunisau.
"I'm confident (for the afternoon session), because I have the girls working with me," Fiji's Alowesi Nakoci said. "We've been working together for a long time, and we've been listening to what our coach says."
Should Australia advance they could face New Zealand in the semifinals, a repeat of the 2016 gold medal match.
New Zealand finished top in Pool A after a 33-0 victory over ROC, who they meet again in the medal round.
Surprise package China sealed their quarter-final spot with a 29-0 thumping of Japan in Pool C.
"Before these Olympics, rugby was not a popular sport in China, but now our major media are broadcasting it. I think it will have a great impact on rugby in the country," China's Keyi Chen said.
(Reporting by Mayu Sakoda; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell and Muralikumar Anantharaman)