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A potted history of sevens at the Commonwealth Games
With a week to go until the action gets underway on the Gold Coast, we take a look back at the five previous rugby sevens tournaments at the Commonwealth Games, charting how South Africa finally ended New Zealand's grip on the gold medal.
Some of the sport's biggest names have played in the Commonwealth Games rugby sevens, from RWC 1995 poster boys Jonah Lomu and Chester Williams to Wallaby great David Campese and World Rugby Hall of Fame inductee Waisale Serevi. In more recent times, Stuart Hogg has added the Commonwealth Games to his impressive rugby-playing CV, while another British and Irish Lion in Wales flanker Justin Tipuric is among the eye-catching selections for Gold Coast 2018.
Five nations – four-time winners New Zealand, defending champions South Africa and Fiji, Australia and England, who have all come close to claiming the ultimate prize – have won medals since the sport was included in the Games for the first time in Kuala Lumpur in 1998. Debutants Zambia and Jamaica take the total number of nations to have competed at this level to 24.
More than 9,000 points have been scored in the 223 matches played to date across the five men's tournaments, but New Zealand are the only team to reach the 1,000-point milestone, although Australia are within touching distance of bringing up four figures too.
As excitement builds ahead of the 2018 Games, even more so now that a women's competition has been added to the programme, we take a look back at how the medals were won and lost in the five previous editions.
Kuala Lumpur, 12-14 September, 1998
For the first time in its 63-year history, the Commonwealth Games was held in Asia and included team sports. Rugby sevens proved a hugely successful addition to the programme with big crowds watching some of rugby’s biggest names strut their stuff. Fittingly, the two best sevens teams on the planet made it through to the final, New Zealand beating world champions Fiji 23-12 in the sweltering heat of the Petaling Jaya Stadium to claim their 100th Commonwealth Games medal.
New Zealand breezed into the knockout stages as number one seeds, scoring 22 tries in crushing wins over the Bahamas and Tonga, while Fiji finished the qualifying rounds as third seeds after two more bewildering displays to emphatically beat hosts Malaysia and Kenya. New Zealand eased passed a decent Welsh side and then edged Samoa in the quarter-final and semi-final. As for Fiji, they followed up a one-score win over Canada with a 28-14 victory against the Mark Ella-coached Australians to reach the final.
Fiji were favourites to claim the first gold medal and the defeat to New Zealand was a bitter disappointment to the thousands glued to their televisions back home. Player of the tournament Jonah Lomu was in devastating form, creating New Zealand’s first two tries for Dallas Seymour and Christian Cullen as the men in black led 14-7 at half-time. Penalties had hurt Fiji for whom the little magician Waisale Serevi was at his best, the Hall of Fame inductee stopping Cullen at one end before putting in Rokini Saimoni for their first try at the other. Saimoni turned creator at the start of the second half setting up Senirusi Rauqe for a try that went unconverted, before Lomu brilliantly chased down Saimoni to stop a certain try in the corner to keep the score at 14-12 in New Zealand’s favour. Caleb Ralph sealed victory a few minutes from time when he hacked on Bruce Reihana’s inside pass and won the race for the touchdown.
David Campese, in his international swansong, had the consolation of the bronze medal when his Australia team beat Samoa 33-12 in the play-off for third.
Gold: New Zealand
THROWBACK THURSDAY to the first time rugby sevens appeared at the #CommonwealthGames in 1998! The #AllBlacks7s beat Fiji 21-12 to scoop the gold. pic.twitter.com/eqVAvPrxLS— NZ7s (@nz7s) 14 March 2018
Manchester, 2-4 August, 2002
The 2002 Commonwealth Games was staged at the newly-built City of Manchester Stadium with rugby sevens again one of the must-watch events. Led by sevens veteran Eric Rush, New Zealand would go on to beat Fiji 33-15 in a repeat of the 1998 final to claim their second consecutive gold. South Africa took bronze.
While the first day-and-a-half of competition went according to the form book, the so-called ‘minnows’ still helped to entertain the large crowds, Koiatu Koiatu of the Cook Islands providing one of the tournament’s unforgettable moments with his somersault celebration after scoring against Malaysia.
All the fancied teams progressed through to the Cup quarter-finals as expected, although lacklustre performances against the Cooks, Kenya and Samoa en route to topping Pool C suggested that the pressure of playing at home might be getting to Hong Kong Sevens champions England. Samoa joined them in the last eight on points difference.
Convincing defeats of Trinidad and Tobago and Malaysia meant Fiji’s progress had looked serene in comparison to England’s. However, a 19-12 loss to Australia saw them concede top spot in Pool D to their conquerors. New Zealand and South Africa completed the pool stages with 100 per cent records with Canada and Wales progressing as the respective runners-up.
A routine 24-0 win for New Zealand over Wales in the first quarter-final was followed by the tournament’s first shock: a 12-10 win for Samoa against Australia. Hell-bent on revenge for their Hong Kong loss earlier in the year, Fiji came from behind to end England’s gold medal hopes thanks to a try from Rupeni Caucaunibuca, while Jean de Villiers’ late score saw South Africa complete the semi-final line-up at Canada’s expense. New Zealand brushed past Samoa with ease in the first semi-final, scoring five tries in a 31-12 victory. But Fiji's victory over the Springboks was in the balance until a last-minute try helped send them through.
Rush, ruled out of the final due to bruised ribs, was forced to sit and watch as his team threatened to implode against six-man Fiji. Uncharacteristic mistakes and Fiji’s opportunism saw them lead by a point early in the second half, shortly after they’d lost Saisi Fuli to a red card for a reckless challenge. But at the death New Zealand forced home their advantage, recapturing the lead in the final minute through Craig de Goldi before Bruce Reihana, one of the unheralded stars of the 1998 success, and Roger Randle added further tries in added time.
Gold: New Zealand
Bronze: South Africa
Melbourne, 16-17 March, 2006
Played over two days instead of three under the closed roof at the Telstra Dome, the 2006 Games produced a different final but the same champion. This time it was England, not Fiji, who came out second-best to a New Zealand side who continued their undefeated streak at this level with a 29-21 win in the final. Meanwhile, Fiji had to settle for the bronze medal after a 24-17 win in the third-place play-off against star-studded Australia.
Waisale Serevi returned for a third Commonwealth Games but in a player-coach capacity as world champions Fiji started out again as clear favourites. New Zealand had the look of a team in transition and had yet to win a single tournament title on the 2005-06 Sevens World Series and, for once, their grip on the gold medal looked less than secure.
For England, series record points scorer Ben Gollings and 2002 veteran Henry Paul provided the experience and Tom Varndell and Mathew Tait the stardust and speed, while Australia’s hopes of home success were boosted by the inclusion of household names such as Lote Tuqiri, Matt Giteau and Chris Latham despite the tournament falling in the middle of the Super Rugby season.
While the pool matches were something of a formality in Manchester, it was a different story in Melbourne as Scotland and South Africa fell victims of two shock results at the hands of Canada and Tonga respectively. The Blitzboks recovered from the setback to top Pool D with Samoa going through as runners-up.
England beat Mark Ella’s Australia 14-12 in the match that decided the top two spots in Pool C, while Pool A belonged to New Zealand, with Wales second, and Fiji and Canada went through from Pool B.
Tait scored a hat-trick in England’s 17-14 quarter-final win over Samoa and followed it up with a brace as Mike Friday’s men denied Fiji a place in a third consecutive final, winning a superb semi-final 21-14. Meanwhile, New Zealand made short work of Canada (24-0) before edging Australia 21-19 to reach the final.
New Zealand hit the ground running in a final watched by 50,000 fans, scoring early through Cory Jane. But 20-year-old Tait continued his blistering form with a stunning 75-metre try, his ninth of the tournament, to bring England right back into it. New Zealand regained the initiative when Josh Blackie replied and Lote Raikabula crossed just before half-time to put the defending champions 15-7 ahead at the break. Andy Vilk’s try made it a one-point game but New Zealand scored twice more before Gollings grabbed a late consolation.
Gold: New Zealand
Delhi, 11-12 October, 2010
Wins for Wales and Samoa at Rugby World Cup Sevens and in the World Series respectively in the lead up to the Commonwealth Games pointed to an exciting new dawn for international sevens where the top honours would be shared around more evenly. Nobody told New Zealand this though.
Gordon Tietjens’ side were in no mood to relinquish their Commonwealth Games crown as the multi-sport event headed to India for the first time. And with All Blacks Ben Smith, Hosea Gear and Zac Guildford in their ranks they swept all before them, averaging six tries per game to take their gold medal tally to four. Injury-hit Australia battled hard to end their monopoly but fell just short in the final, losing 24-17, while the bronze medal went to South Africa after a 17-14 win over England.
With Fiji absent from the line-up, New Zealand started the event as the standout team and they made their medal intentions clear from the start in defeating Canada 43-7, the only blight on the victory being two yellow cards – to Liam Messam, a gold medallist from 2006, and Tomasi Cama. The defending champions scored 96 points without any reply in wins over Guyana and Scotland to cruise to the top of Pool A. South Africa won Pool B from Wales in second while Kenya defied the odds to trump a dangerous Samoa side in Pool C. England edged out Australia once again, to go three from three and qualify from Pool D along with their beaten opponents.
For the third time in Commonwealth Games history Wales had the misfortune of facing New Zealand in the quarter-finals. Wales took the lead, but New Zealand came back strongly to win 31-10. England did remarkably well to keep free-scoring Samoa to one try as they edged the Islanders 7-5, while Australia became the third team to book their place in the semi-finals when they beat Kenya 27-5. South Africa completed the line-up after a tense 10-7 win over Scotland.
New Zealand defeated England 33-12 in the first semi-final, DJ Forbes and Cama scoring two tries apiece before Australia booked their place in the gold medal match with a 17-7 win against South Africa. A capacity crowd inside the Delhi University Stadium thought they might be about to witness an upset as Australia established a 17-7 lead early in the second half, but Tietjens used his bench wisely and the introduction of Sherwin Stowers and Tim Mikkelson turned the game on its head. New Zealand scored three tries and two conversions in the remaining seven minutes of the play to put the win beyond doubt. In the bronze medal match, South Africa edged England 17-14.
Gold medal: New Zealand
Bronze: South Africa
Glasgow, 26-27 July, 2014
With rugby sevens set to make its debut at the Olympic Games in two years’ time, Glasgow 2014 gave the best teams in the Commonwealth the chance to lay down a marker and build momentum ahead of the big event in Rio de Janeiro. As Olympic dress rehearsals go, this ticked all the boxes with superb crowds and compelling action on the pitch. One of the Home Nations getting beyond the quarter-finals would have been hoped for, but not even that could dampen the weekend-long party at Ibrox Stadium, which ended with a new and deserving winner in South Africa.
The highlight of the opening day’s play was undoubtedly Scotland’s clash against New Zealand. Winning 17-0, the four-time defending champions appeared to be coasting to victory, but the Scots fought back brilliantly after the break and created two tries, both converted, for winger Lee Jones. Desperate to keep their unbeaten record intact, the men in black lost Gillies Kaka and Tim Mikkelson to the sin bin but, somehow, they held on for a 17-14 win. Both teams made it through to the last eight.
South Africa stormed into the quarter-finals, scoring 106 points without conceding any reply in beating fellow qualifiers Kenya, the Cook Islands and Trinidad and Tobago, while Samoa’s 19-12 win over Wales decided the top two spots in Pool C. For once, Australia got the better of England to advance from Pool D in top spot, setting up a date with Wales and leaving England to face Samoa.
Australia appeared to have the rough end of the draw though when they trailed the fired-up Welsh 19-0 at half-time but tries from captain Ed Jenkins and Sean McMahon reduced the deficit to five points before Pama Fou went over for a try with the last move of the match. Cameron Clark knocked over the conversion to secure a 21-19 win for Australia. Samoa edged England 15-14 in an equally tight affair, while South Africa overpowered Scotland 35-12 and New Zealand beat Kenya 19-7.
With the semi-final line-up complete, one thing was certain as day two drew to a close – the medals would be going to a southern hemisphere nation. A 35-7 win over Samoa saw South Africa through to their first final while New Zealand needed two second-half tries from Scott Curry to separate themselves from Australia and extend their tournament winning run to 30 matches.
Australia ensured they didn’t leave Glasgow empty-handed by taking the bronze medal after a routine 24-0 win against Samoa, but the big prize went to South Africa, despite a couple of early blows. Having lost their captain Kyle Brown to a shoulder injury, the Blitzboks fell behind in the final when Sherwin Stowers dotted down under the posts for a converted try. New Zealand then lost Bryce Heem to a yellow card, but it looked as though they’d keep their line intact while down to six men until Seabelo Senatla profited from a tap penalty to score his 10th try of the tournament. With the conversion going over, it was all-square at the break.
Senatla burned the New Zealand defence on the outside for his second of the match shortly after the restart before Cecil Afrika, South Africa’s Commonwealth Games flag-bearer, extended the lead to 17-7 with four minutes remaining. Joe Webber hit back with a try after a lung-bursting break by Declan O'Donnell but when Akira Ioane knocked the ball on with seconds remaining, the game was up for New Zealand and history had been made.
Gold: South Africa
Silver: New Zealand
Who will triumph on the Gold Coast when women's rugby makes its Commonwealth Games debut and South Africa's men bid to retain their title in a field featuring four teams who have won a round of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2018?