New Zealand left an unforgettable Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games rugby sevens competition with a fifth men’s gold medal and the first-ever women’s after an exhilarating day at a sun-drenched Robina Stadium on Sunday.
The All Blacks Sevens ran out 14-0 winners over long-time rivals Fiji in the men’s final with co-captain Tim Mikkelson admitting afterwards that the team had been “lifted up” by the “pretty amazing” performance of their female counterparts as they beat Australia in sudden-death extra-time.
In one of the greatest games of sevens ever seen, Olympic champions Australia and world champions New Zealand went toe-to-toe for nearly 25 minutes in an incredible cacophony of noise until Kelly Brazier broke through in the sixth minute of extra-time to secure a 17-12 victory for her side.
With chants of ‘Aussie’ and ‘Kiwi’ bouncing off each other throughout, the Women’s Rugby World Cup 2017 winner was roared over the line by the New Zealand fans, having just enough left in the tank to avoid the desperate chase of Dom du Toit to the delight of her team-mates.
The two teams were given a standing ovation by the packed Robina Stadium crowd having produced a fitting finale to the first women’s sevens competition at a Commonwealth Games.
England joined the New Zealand teams, Australia and Fiji on the podium after claiming bronze in both the men’s and women’s events. England beat defending champions South Africa 21-14 in the men’s event after the Red Roses had overcome Olympic bronze medallists Canada 24-19.
RACE FOR HISTORIC GOLD
Australia took on Canada in the first medal semi-final and, just as when the sides met at this stage at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, it was the same outcome, albeit this time a lot more convincing on the scoreboard at 33-. Canada opened the scoring when captain Ghislaine Landry raced through a gap on halfway, but Australia were level after Emilee Cherry ran 95 metres following quick ball from a scrum near their own line. Whenever Charlotte Caslick got the ball the excitement in the crowd went up a notch and she duly sent Emma Tonegato over for the first of her three tries – two of which came in the second half – before having the final say herself after breaking a tackle to run under the posts.
New Zealand had beaten Team GB in the Rio 2016 semi-finals, a team featuring many of this England squad, and the outcome was also the same after the Black Ferns Sevens scored three unanswered tries to turn a 5-5 tie into a 26-5 victory. Captain Sarah Goss had opened the scoring before her opposite number Abbie Brown drew England level. Portia Woodman was surprising chased down and denied a try but had the final say in the match after scores from Michaela Blyde and Shakira Baker set up the gold medal match that many had predicted before the historic Games kicked off.
With the pain of missing out in a medal match to the same opponents at Rio 2016 in the minds of many of the England players, they made the most of an early yellow card for Landry to score two tries in the Canada captain’s absence through Lydia Thompson and Deborah Fleming. Claire Allan crossed for a third try to make it 19-0, leaving Canada needing to score next if they were to get back into the match and they duly did through Bianca Farella’s charging run. Jess Breach restored England’s 19-point cushion before tries from Charity Williams and Sara Kaljuvee cut the deficit to five to set up a nervous finish.
The stage was set for another chapter in the New Zealand-Australian rivalry that has dominated women’s sevens over the last six years and it more than lived up to expectations, keeping the crowd on the edge of their seats from start to finish. Woodman opened the scoring with her eighth of the Games as the sides continued to test each other out and for much of the first half until, with seconds remaining Blyde was sent clear by Gayle Broughton to make it 12-0 at half-time.
The home crowd were stunned and with Australia having lost Caslick to a head injury assessment, it would be a long road back, but when Evania Pelite ran across the pitch before releasing Cherry to cut the deficit to five it was very much game on. Within 90 seconds the scores were tied after Australia won turnover ball and spread it wide for Ellia Green, the winger stumbling out of Blyde’s tackle to run round nearer the posts only for Emma Sykes to miss the conversion.
Both sides created chances in sudden death extra-time but couldn’t finish them off and just as it looked like a second period would be needed to decide the gold medallists, Brazier broke free and raced more than 50 metres into the corner, sparking celebrations among her team-mates as Australian players fell to the floor devastated.
In the other ranking matches, Fiji and Kenya booked their places in the fifth place play-off in contrasting fashions. Fiji were simply too strong for South Africa in the day’s opening match, Pricilla Siata – whose yellow card in the Pool B decider with Australia last night had proved so costly – scoring two of their six tries in a 40-12 victory, many of which came as a result of the offloading game associated with Fijian rugby. Kenya then had to come from 12-0 down against Wales, scoring two long-range tries, the first after Janet Okelo gathered her own chip and some great strength in the tackle by captain Philadelphia Olando saw her offload to Celestine Masinde to score the winner in the final minute for a 14-12 triumph.
Wales snatched victory from the jaws of defeat when captain Sian Williams went over in the corner with time up on the clock against South Africa in the seventh place play-off. South Africa had led 14-7 but Joyce’s second try and Williams meant the Welsh finished on a high note. In the fifth place-play-off Fiji had too much power and pace for Kenya to handle, Miriam Naiobasali and Timaima Ravisa both scoring a double in the comfortable 40-7 victory.
MEN’S RACE FOR GOLD
New Zealand, just as in the women’s medal semi-finals, came out on top in their battle with England despite conceding the opening try to Dan Bibby after a period of English pressure. A long lofted pass from co-captain Tim Mikkelson found Regan Ware is acres of space out wide for an easy run-in before Etene Nanai-Seturo threw an outrageous dummy to go over on the stroke of half-time for 12-7 lead for the All Blacks Sevens. Ware added a second after the break before Alex Davis spun out of a tackle to score a late consolation try for England. It was New Zealand, though, who maintained their perfect record of reaching every Commonwealth Games final with a 17-12 victory.
The second medal semi-final was the proverbial game of two halves. Fiji, who had scrapped by Wales in their Pool D decider on Saturday, came charging out of the blocks with Eroni Sau running in from long range before captain Jerry Tuwai just had the pace to evade the chasing Werner Kok to make it 12-0 at half-time. When Sevuloni Mocenecagi dotted down within a minute of the restart it looked like Fiji were heading for their first final since 2002, but two tries by Rosko Specman is just over a minute set up a tense final and Cecil Afrika held his nerve to convert Dylan Sage’s try to tie the scores at 19-19. Extra-time would be needed for the first time on the day with Fiji working the ball wide for Amenoni Nasilasila to score the try and end South Africa’s bid for back-to-back gold medals.
England looked set for more heartbreak after tries from Branco du Preez and Ruhan Nel gave the Blitzboks a 14-0 half-time lead. However, a Phil Burgess double tied the scores with little more than two minutes to play and then captain Tom Mitchell ran across the field, catching South Africa napping to run in a try and crucially convert from the touchline. South Africa couldn’t respond and England were able to celebrate a double bronze haul.
It was always going to be hard for the New Zealand men’s team to follow the spectacle that was the women’s gold medal match, but they made the perfect start against Fiji after Nanai-Seturo raced onto a cross-field kick in the second minute. Fiji, bidding to win their first Commonwealth Games gold medal, were missing a few too many tackles and New Zealand made them pay as Ware burst through to score his seventh try to double the lead to 14-0.
Fiji’s cause was not helped when they lost Mocenecagi to the sin-bin and Ware looked to have bagged a double but the TMO correctly ruled that he had lost the ball in the act of grounding. That could have provided the spark for a comeback, but the Fijians had little left in the tank after their extra-time semi-final win and the score remained that way to give New Zealand their fifth gold medal after having to settle for silver in 2014.
In the ranking matches for fifth to eighth place, Australia gave the home crowd something to cheer about with 33-5 victory over Kenya in their semi-final with Ben O’Donnell scoring twice and Maurice Longbottom running in another from distance. The all-European battle in the other was a much closer affair, George Horne – the younger brother of Scotland international Peter – showing his pace to score twice, a feat matched by Luke Morgan for Wales, before Jamie Farndale ran in the try that clinched a 19-12 victory for Scotland.
The seventh place play-off produced eight tries – four apiece for Kenya and Wales – with the Welsh hanging on for a 28-24 victory. Wales had trailed 19-14 before tries from Luke Morgan and Luke Treharne pulled them clear, leaving Billy Odhiambo’s second of the match mere consolation for Kenya. Australia then sent coach Andy Friend off on a victorious note with a 26-0 defeat of Scotland in his final match in charge thanks to two first-half tries by captain Jesse Parahi. Lachlan Anderson and Boyd Killingworth completed the victory to secure fifth place for the host nation.