South Africa caused a major upset in the Commonwealth Games rugby sevens on Sunday by defeating reigning champions New Zealand 17-12 at a packed Ibrox stadium. The Kiwis had won every Commonwealth Games gold medal since the inception of the discipline in Kuala Lumpur in 1998 and were odds on favourites to take another in Glasgow. But the Blitzbokke, led by Cecil Afrika had other ideas and brilliantly took the gold for the first time. Australia meanwhile took the bronze medal after beating Samoa in the third place play-off.
Hosts Scotland Narrowly Miss Out
It had been a fairytale tournament for Scotland on day one, and they nearly caused the biggest upset in Commonwealth Games and Sevens history against New Zealand. Having trailed 17-0 at half time, the home side fought back valiantly through two Lee Jones tries and one sublime touchline conversion from Colin Gregor. New Zealand, not helped by two yellow card for Gillies Kaka and Tim Mikkelson were severely rattled and only just held onto victory by the skin of their teeth (17-14 the final score).
Next up for the Scots was Barbados; a game that never posed much concern was won comfortably 56-0. It was what was necessary for the home side as they prepared for the crunch match, and the match that determined who was to go through to the cup quarter finals – against Canada. Canada, who had beaten Scotland in the last three encounters (most notably in the semi finals of the Glasgow IRB leg) were the next opponents. But Scotland, rallied on by the Ibrox faithful proved too good and stormed to a 21-5 victory.
After being muscled out in the quarter finals by South Africa, England were next up, this time in the battle for the Plate final. Again, a slow start for the hosts proved their undoing, going down 15-0 at half time. But vowed on passionately by the crowd, they became an unstoppable force in the second half. A length of the field break by Mark Bennett led to a yellow car infringement from Dan Norton, desperate in defence. Bennett went quickly and scored. A minute later and with the man advantage, Lee Jones went in under the posts to reduce the gap to three points. Into the final minute and led by the instrumental Gregor, Stuart Hogg looked to run in from half way, only to be brought up five metres short. England recaptured the ball and kicked it out for a tight 15-12 victory. They would go on to beat Wales with the last play of the match to take the Plate and fifth place.
Australia Outclass Samoa to Take Bronze
After six minutes of ebb and flow rugby, Australia opened the deadlock just before halftime. Greg Jeloudev, so often the playmaker and go-to man in this year’s Commonwealth Games for the Aussies, burst down the touchline with incredible pace to race in for the opening try. After the hooter sounded for the half, Samoa found themselves down to six men through injury and Australia made the most of one man advantage. Jeloudev went in at the corner again to extend the lead to 10-0.
The second half saw Samoa discipline ebb away and Australia exerted more dominance. Sean McMahon, at the forefront of contact and bullocking runs, charged up the field; being stopped just short of the line. Quick ball and a great line put Liam Gill in for the third try to all but guarantee the Bronze medal. It was confirmed soon after as Sam Myers went in almost unopposed against a tired Samoan defence for the fourth and final try; 24-0 it ended.
South Africa Led by Afrika Shock the Kiwis
The final was to be decided between the competition’s two best sides; the ideal draw for the gold medal match. Both sides looked impressive in the preliminary rounds and despite looking shaky against Scotland, New Zealand went in as favourites.
The Kiwis started well and despite some dangerous South African play and territory, got the first try of the match. Sherwin Stowers, who scored a hat-trick against the hosts, opened the match by latching onto a fine pass from Captain DJ Forbes – who in turn brilliantly supported Ben Lam’s run to run in under the posts.
South Africa responded due in part to Bryce Heem being shown a yellow card for kicking the ball away at a ruck. In the last play of the half, Branco du Preez fed Seabelo Senatla who scampered under the posts to level the score at 7-7.
The second half saw the South Africans raise their game and surprisingly New Zealand lose theirs. Indiscipline and unforced errors from the Kiwis let South Africa gain the upper hand and the Blitzbokke got the first try after the break. Frankie Horne took the ball in and fed Senatla, who used his remarkable speed once more to waltz in to extend the lead to 12-7.
Off came du Preez for Cecil Afrika, and New Zealand looking more and more out of sorts would be dealt the fatal blow by the latter. Four Kiwi players committed to the ruck and got dominated by the South African forwards. The ball was quickly whipped to Afrika who showed a great turn of speed to cross the line to put one hand of the gold medal. New Zealand however, came back in typical New Zealand fashion through Joe Webber with two minutes to go. A glimpse of what New Zealand could have produced had South Africa given them the chance. The conversion missed and South Africa used the remaining minute and a half to wind down the clock to take an historic Commonwealth gold medal. The final score was 17-12 and the Boks took a thoroughly deserved title.