Double gold for New Zealand at expense of Olympic champions
GOLD COAST, Australia (AP) — Rio revenge, a brain fade and a gripping contest forced into extra time.
New Zealand got some Olympic revenge on Australia to claim the inaugural Commonwealth Games rugby women’s sevens gold medal with an extra-time win on Sunday. The Kiwis made it a double within the hour by upsetting Olympic champion Fiji 14-0 in the men’s final.
The women’s decider was locked 12-12 at fulltime, and it took until the first passage of extra time for Kelly Brazier to run length of field to gift New Zealand the gold 17-12.
In a game littered with what-ifs for the Australians, Cassie Staples kicked the ball into the crowd while Australia had possession at full time and within 40 meters of the tryline.
Even New Zealand captain Sarah Goss made mention of the costly mistake.
“I couldn’t believe it. I had no idea what was going on ... but I am so proud of the girls,” Goss said. “It’s been an amazing run over the last eight weeks.”
For Australia coach Tim Walsh, it was the ultimate gatecrash.
Sunday was Walsh’s last day as head coach of a women’s team which has raised the national profile of the sport.
“We’re devastated ... you can’t fault the effort we put in but we don’t like losing,” Walsh said. “We know we made some mistakes, they do happen ... we did well to come back from 12-nil down, and credit to New Zealand.”
Speaking of the intense rivalry with Australia, New Zealand’s Theresa Fitzpatrick said: “They are our biggest competition and we are just as skilled, the skill level is high for both teams, it’s just about heart.”
Charlotte Caslick, one of Australia’s best at these games, didn’t come back on in the second half after a head knock.
Australia had already lost co-captain Sharni Williams, who was ruled out before the semifinals with an injured left ankle.
The New Zealand men made it a double celebration by upsetting crowd-favorite Fiji after crossing for two first-half tries.
It was their defense that won the game — New Zealand captain Scott Currie pulled off try-saving tackle in the second half that showcased their tenacity.
An increasingly frustrated Fiji couldn’t find their rhythm in a scoreless second half, a rarity for two teams so skilled at running the ball.
“We watched the women go into overtime and their win at the end really inspired us to get the double,” said Tim Mikkelson, who was also part of the New Zealand squad that won gold in New Delhi in 2010. The New Zealand men celebrated later with a bare-chested haka on the field.
England got a double, too, beating Canada 24-19 in the women’s bronze-medal match and South Africa 21-14 in the men’s playoff for third spot.
World Rugby Chairman Bill Beaumont timed his run at the Commonwealth Games to announce Fiji was putting in a bid host a leg of the World Series in the near future.