Wednesday, March 28, 2007

NZ Sevens win Commonwealth Games Gold

March 17, 2006

NZ Sevens win gold

By Paul Lewis
New Zealand Herald

A masterclass by Otago and Highlanders flanker Josh Blackie helped fire the New Zealand sevens rugby team from a potential year of failure into another realm of achievement, winning gold at the Melbourne Commonwealth Games early this morning.

The 2006 season was supposed to see the New Zealand team deposed as world champions after winning six straight world titles. Gold at the Melbourne Commonwealth Games seemed as likely as free-flowing Auckland traffic. Wrong. The doomsayers reckoned without coach Gordon Tietjens, Blackie and the spirit and savvy that fuels the team - who have now won all three Commonwealth games gold medals in the sport.

Denied a strong Super 14 contingent by NZRU priority rules, Tietjens and his team still swept all before them to claim the gold by beating England and accounting for a strong Australian side - full of Super 14 talent - in the semi-final.

"It's magic, I really feel for the players, they were quite magnificent," said Tietjens. "It's something I'll never forget. The team was not as strong. I think a lot of people under-estimated us and it was all about getting our defence right. I still can't believe it [three gold medals]."

In the final, England kept pace early after Corey Jane scored from pressure after a Blackie break but the English hit back with a scorching individual try to England international Mathew Tait, top tryscorer for the tournament. Blackie and Lote Raikabula, playing well after being promoted to the team in place of the injured Sosene Anesi, scored to build a 15-7 lead at the break.

In the second half, New Zealand made the game safe with two tries - to Liam Messam after playmaker Amasio Valence and Blackie, again, were involved and then Blackie broke through from the kick-off for a superb individual try. New Zealand led 29-14 at that stage and the English could not quite bridge the gap, in spite of two late tries.

It was a carbon copy of the semi-final, won 21-19, which saw the Australians seen off with two tries in two minutes to Jane and the highly impressive Valence to hold on to the lead to the end. In the other semi, Fiji had been popularly supposed to be hiding their talent, cruising through to the final, but they seemed unable to shake off lethargy and mistakes in the semi and were well beaten by England in the end.

However, they beat Australia - down to six men through injuries - 24-17 in the bronze medal match.

Against Australia, the New Zealanders gave a hint of what was to come, displaying tenacity and cohesiveness not always apparent in the early matches. High on the roll of honour was Valence - playing his last tournament for New Zealand before heading to play rugby in Japan.

New Zealand ramped up their renowned defence and were seeking to put some big hits on their opponents, especially the 103kg Lote Tuqiri who had been one of the stars of the tournament. The New Zealanders also displayed their best combinations and rhythm of the Games and Tamati Ellison scored first after some good build-up work by Messam and Valence.

Although the dangerous Tuqiri scored after a breakdown, galloping through three tackles, New Zealand killed the game off with the beautifully-taken tries to Jane and Valence. The Australians were without the injured Chris Latham and Brumbies midfield back Matt Giteau also carried a knock into the game and did not last and they finished medal-less.

Source: New Zealand Herald

Details of earlier preliminary rounds here.


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