Defending champions South Africa, New Zealand, Fiji and England came through the pool stages unbeaten on a day packed full of drama and excitement at Robina Stadium to book their places in the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games men’s sevens semi-finals.
The semi-final line-up on Sunday pits four of the five nations to have claimed Commonwealth Games medals across the five previous editions, with England facing four-time champions New Zealand in the first before the mouth-watering prospect of a South Africa versus Fiji encounter.
With only the pool winners to progress to the knockout stages and remain in contention for a medal there was no room for complacency with every match a must-win encounter.
The pool deciders certainly lived up to expectations with Fiji needing a late try from Semi Kunatani to deny a Justin Tipuric-inspired Wales and claim a 21-17 win in their Pool D decider, while England battled past hosts Australia 26-17 and New Zealand proved too hot for Canada, winning the Pool C finale 33-7. South Africa then brought the curtain down on a long day under the balmy Australian sun with a 26-5 win over Scotland.
The bottom two teams in each pool now exit the competition with Australia to face Kenya and Scotland to meet Wales in the first stage of the fifth to eighth place play-offs.
Jamie Farndale scored two of Scotland’s tries as they kicked off Pool A with a 27-0 victory over Papua New Guinea, having too much pace and power for their opponents. Defending champions South Africa were then quickly into their stride in the final match of the opening round, Justin Geduld scoring a try in each half as the Blitzboks showed their ruthless side with a dominant 43-0 defeat of Malaysia, the nation which hosted the first Commonwealth Games to feature rugby back in 1998.
The Blitzboks warmed up for the pool decider with Scotland with an emphatic 52-0 defeat of a Papua New Guinea side that simply had no answer to the hard-running and support lines of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series leaders and spent virtually the whole game pinned deep in their own half. Ruhan Nel and Rosko Specman both scored braces in the win with South Africa yet to see their line breached in two matches.
Papua New Guinea found their scoring touch in their final match against Malaysia, Gairo Kapana crossing twice in the first half to set them on the road to a 31-5 win with their opponents also scoring a first try of the Games through Muhamad Firdaus Tarmizi in defeat. The final match of the day pitted Scotland against a South African side that had not conceded a try and the first five minutes saw the teams testing each other out with no quarter given before Specman went over in the corner after a quick tap. Nel, Cecil Afrika and Geduld put the win beyond doubt in the second half before Farndale charged down the wing and spun out of the latter’s tackle to breach the Blitzboks’ line.
In the opening game of the tournament Samoa started the brighter with Neria Fomai slipping through a tackle to score the first try against Australia, but two quick-fire tries by Lachlan Anderson and then a fantastic solo try by Maurice Longbottom, after a great turnover and offload from John Porch, put the hosts in control. They could only add one try in the second half, through Thomas Connor, but the 24-7 win was just what the crowd wanted. England were more comfortable winners in their first match against Commonwealth Games debutants Jamaica, captain Tom Mitchell and Dan Norton each grabbing a brace of tries in their 38-5 victory.
Australia set up a pool decider with a six-try defeat of Jamaica, Longbottom taking his tally for the day to four with the pick of his hat-trick being a 70-metre run for the hosts’ second try after Ben O’Donnell has coasted in for the opener. Jamaica managed to cross the whitewash again through Tyler Bush to cut the deficit to 20-5 at half-time, before tries from Sam Myers and Longbottom ensured the Australian fans left happy after the day’s opening session. England joined Australia in going two from two with a 33-0 defeat of Samoa, Dan Bibby scoring two of their four first-half tries against the Pacific Islanders.
Samoa bowed out of the competition on a victorious note, scoring six tries in a 36-7 win over Jamaica with David Afamasaga scoring a brace. Jamaica maintained their record of scoring a try in every match against core teams on the series, this time through Reinhardo Richards but the Samoans were worthy winners. The pool decider between England and Australia, who have met at every Commonwealth Games to date, swung one way then the other in the first half with Alex Davis’ try for England tying things up at 12-12 at the break. Australia were guilty of falling off a few tackles and England made them pay, with Davis’ second try of the match with two minutes to go finally making certain of a 26-17 victory and a semi-final spot.
Zambia were certainly not overawed at facing four-time champions New Zealand in their first ever Commonwealth Games sevens match and created plenty of opportunities but just lacked the out-and-out pace to finish them off. The All Blacks Sevens had no such problems with teenagers Viliami Koroi and Etene Nanai-Seturo among their seven try scorers in a 54-0 win. With test flanker Justin Tipuric wearing the famed No.10 jersey, Wales ran out comfortable 31-5 winners over Uganda in their opening match with Hallam Amos and Luke Treharne among their try scorers.
Canada knew they had to pile on the points against Zambia in their second match if they were to have any hope of finishing top of their pool and they just did that with Mike Fuailefau scoring a hat-trick in a 47-0 victory. Nathan Hirayama had set Canada on their way with the opening try and finished the match with 17 points after converting six of his side’s seven tries. New Zealand v Kenya had been a match that promised much, but in the end the Hong Kong Sevens runners-up simply missed too many tackles to trouble the All Blacks Sevens who capitalised to score six tries, two of them by rising star Nanai-Seturo in the first half. Kenya did have the final say with a flowing try for Samuel Oliech but with the final score of 40-7 it was nothing more than a consolation.
Kenya bounced back from that heavy loss with a 47-0 win over fellow African nation Zambia with Arthur Owira scoring an early try before receiving lengthy treatment from medics and being taken off on a stretcher. Jeffrey Oluoch and Nelson Oyoo each scored a brace in the win that, following New Zealand’s win over Canada, ensured Kenya will play again on Sunday. New Zealand co-captain Scott Curry set his side on the way to victory with their opening try and the lead had reached 33-0 – Regan Ware helping himself to a double – by the time their line was breached for the first time in the Games by Admir Cejvanovic.
Sri Lanka gave the crowd something to cheer about when Danushka Ranjan raced away to score the opening try against Fiji, but five second-half tries from the Olympic champions secured a 63-5 victory that wasn’t as comfortable as the scoreline suggests with the Asian side showing plenty of pace and skill. Sevuloni Mocenecagi, Alasio Naduva and Amenoni Nasilasila all scored two tries in the win as Fiji continued the form they showed in winning a fourth successive Hong Kong Sevens crown last weekend.
A superb tackle by Sudam Sureyaarachchi denied Wales a try in the opening minute and instead it was Sri Lanka who scored first through their flyer Danushka Ranjan. However, just as against Fiji it proved a false dawn with Wales roaring back with four tries of their own – including a dive under the posts by Owen Jenkins – before half-time. Anuradha Sooriyabandara turned on the gas to race clear for another long-range Sri Lankan try but it was Wales who ran out 42-12 winners.
It took Fiji captain Jerry Tuwai a mere 15 seconds to score the first of their eight tries against Uganda in a 54-0 victory to move them to within one win of a semi-final place. The tries were scored by eight different players with Fiji’s pace, power and offloading just too much for the Rugby Africa Sevens champions to handle with Eroni Sau, Vatemo Ravouvou and Nasilasila among their other scorers.
Uganda and Sri Lanka served up an entertaining match with plenty of long-range tries to delight the crowd, but it was the African nation’s three second-half tries through James Odongo, Adrian Kasito and Philip Wokorach that turned a two-point lead into a 33-10 victory. The stage was then set for the Pool D decider and Wales threatened to rip up the form book and deny Fiji a shot at the gold medal they crave. With Tipuric playing a pivotal role and setting up two of their three tries, Wales didn’t allow Fiji to play their and found themselves leading 17-14 with three minutes to go. However, Fiji are masters of the late try and this time it was former captain Semi Kunatani who dotted down to snatch a 21-17 win.