Commonwealth Games: Silver for sevens side

By Nik Simon in Glasgow

The New Zealand Seven team members stand dejected with their medals after losing to South Africa in the gold medal match. Photo / Greg Bowker
The New Zealand Seven team members stand dejected with their medals after losing to South Africa in the gold medal match. Photo / Greg Bowker

New Zealand's golden era of dominance in the Commonwealth Games sevens came to a painful end at Ibrox Stadium with a 17-12 defeat to South Africa.

Sir Gordon Tietjens is not used to losing at these Games, but his record of winning every tournament since the 1998 inauguration was shattered in front of 45,000 in Glasgow.

Having beaten Australia in the semifinal, New Zealand were guaranteed at least a silver medal. An early try from Tim Mikkelson and a double from Scott Curry sent the Aussies packing, but South Africa promised to be a far greater challenge.

The Rainbow Nation had scored more points than any other team in the five games leading up to the final, as well as boasting the best defensive record.

In Cornal Hendricks - the winger who made his XVs debut for the Springboks last month - South Africa had one of the tournament's standout players, fresh from scoring a brace in the 35-7 semi-final victory over Samoa.

But receiving from the kick-off, New Zealand took the game to South Africa. They countered South Africa's physical forwards and opened the scoring with just over three minutes on the clock. Ben Lam used his power to break through the midfield and DJ Forbes provided close support to send Sherwin Stowers under the posts.

New Zealand were shown more yellow cards than any other teams on day one of the competition and Bryce Heem was sent to the sin bin shortly after the opening score.

The Kiwis slowed the game down to almost walking pace as their experienced group tried to run down Heem's two-minute cool down period. The tactics almost paid off but, with just seconds remaining in the first half, Seabelo Senatla found his way through to level the scores.

This was a fitting finale, contested by the two best teams on the World Series circuit. Early pool encounters with the likes of Barbados and the Cook Islands offered little for the rugby purists, but this was of the highest draw.

Senatla struck again shortly after the break. South Africa threw the ball wide and, for the first time over the whole weekend, New Zealand found themselves in a losing position. New Zealand were exposed for pace and Cecil Afrika found a hole to add a quick-fire third to leave the Kiwis with a mountain to climb.

But there was hope when Declan O'Donnell made a break down the right wing, finding Joe Webber on his inside shoulder to pull the deficit back to just five points. There was one last throw of the dice but, with the clock down to zero, Akira Ioane knocked the ball on and dreams of a fifth consecutive gold went up in smoke.

"That's finals footy. Pressure builds and causes players to make the wrong decisions at crucial times and that was all of us from 1-12. It's disappointing," captain Forbes told Sky Sport.

Perhaps looking towards the Rio Olympic Games when sevens will make its debut, Forbes was focusing on the positives following the defeat.

"The only positive is that Tietj said before 'form is temporary but class lasts forever'. We're a classy side, no doubt and that. But maybe 10 or 11 minutes of that 20-minute final we were a bit off that pace. Good on South Africa, they played really well."

- NZ Herald

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