New Zealand in historic Commonwealth Games sevens double
GOLD COAST, Australia - There aren't many firsts left for New Zealand in the game of rugby, yet they still created history on Sunday by sweeping the Commonwealth Games sevens gold medals.
The women and men defeated Australia and Fiji, respectively, in stifling conditions at Robina Stadium, the Black Ferns avenging their loss from the Olympic final in a pulsating gold medal game that went to extra time.
It was Kelly Brazier who proved the hero in the 17-12 win, the 28-year-old breaking Australian hearts with a 70-metre sprint to the line that secured the Kiwis the first ever medal for women's sevens at the Commonwealth Games.
"It's so surreal, I can't believe I just won the gold medal," New Zealand captain Sarah Goss said. "I'm so proud of all the girls, it's been an amazing run over the last eight weeks.
"To bring it home in an atmosphere like that was incredible, the support we've had from all the fans, really boosted us."
Portia Woodman had earlier opened the scoring for New Zealand with a blistering run down the left touchline, before she stepped inside Charlotte Caslick and outsprinted Emma Tonegato to the line. And the Kiwis doubled their advantage just before the break, Michaela Blyde touching down after some smart ball movement on her inside.
There were some tense moments to start the second stanza before an overthrown New Zealand lineout was swooped upon by Vani Palite, the Aussie offloading just short of the line for Emily Cherry to score. And Australia soon were level after Ellia Green beat the New Zealand defence on the right-hand touchline following a perfect pass from Tonegato.
With the clock winding down, Australia were awarded a penalty. Sensing the need for urgency, Cherry opted for the quick tap only for Cassie Staples, inexplicably, to kick the ball into touch, sending the game into overtime.
"I think it was a bit of miscommunication, there was lots of things going on," Cherry said of Staples' kick. "I think the crowd got into it, there was noise everywhere; Cassie said she heard 'kick it out'. But as soon as she kicked it out, we were confident going into that extra time that we could run over them and we just didn't have the legs in the end and didn't have the ball control."
Both teams had their chances in a tense first period of extra time, with Pelite coming within 10 metres of scoring for Australia. But it was Brazier's run that proved the difference, the Australian cover defence unable to scramble across to the left-hand corner.
An exhausted Brazier was soon swamped by teammates, while a large Kiwi contingent exploded in the stands. It was heartbreak for the Australians however, Charlotte Caslick's tears during the national anthem evidence of how much meant it to them.
The defeat also brought down the curtain on Australia coach Tim Walsh's career with the women as he prepares to take over the men's job vacated by Andy Friend.
"We hate losing, so we're pretty disappointing, everyone's faces are devastated," Walsh said. "You can't fault the effort they put, the way that they prepared; they prepared to perform and prepared so they could walk off without any regret and that's what they did.
"But yeah, don't like losing and I'm sure there's always going to be that 'what if, what if?"
Meanwhile in the men's final, New Zealand denied Fiji a first ever Commonwealth Games gold medal in a 14-0 triumph to round out the competition. Two tries in the first half were good enough for New Zealand, the Kiwis reclaiming their Commonwealth crown after South Africa had pipped them in Glasgow.
Having taken out the Hong Kong Sevens last weekend, the Fijians looked short on energy in the final after they were earlier forced into extra time in their semifinal with South Africa.
Both New Zealand outfits treated those supporters who'd stayed around for the medal ceremonies to their traditional sevens victory dances, the men now famous for their shirtless haka.
"It's pretty satisfying, we watched the women go into overtime and their win at the end really inspired us to get the double," New Zealand men's captain Tim Mikkelson said.
"Not many guys in this team would know the feeling of a gold medal. I got one in Delhi (2010 Commonwealth Games) and was part of the team that lost in Glasgow (2014), so to get this win is amazing."