Coach Michael O’Connor’s Rugby Sevens squad broke a 12-year drought and achieved Australia’s best-ever result at a Commonwealth Games when they claimed silver in Delhi, after pushing four-time champions New Zealand all the way in the gold medal decider.
The Australians held a 10-point lead early in the second half but the experience of the Kiwis shone through when they piled on three-unanswered tries to claim their fourth successive gold medal at the 16-nation event.
The silver medal-winning performance put an end to a long drought which set in after captain David Campese’s team won bronze in Kuala Lumpur when the sport made its debut on the Games playing roster in 1998. Australia had come up short in their last two attempts, finishing fourth in Melbourne in 2006 and equal sixth in Manchester in 2002.
Captain Patrick McCutcheon’s side started two days of competition at Delhi University brightly; downing Uganda 33-0 with Qantas Wallabies winger Lachie Turner and Queensland Reds rookie and Sevens regular Liam Gill scoring doubles in the five-try-to-nil romp.
Sydney University halfback Nick Phipps shined in Australia’s 42-5 win over Sri Lanka touching down for two tries, but Australia slipped up in their final pool match against arch-rivals England, going down 21-19.
The narrow loss proved a blessing in disguise and set up a quarter-finals encounter with Kenya instead of Sevens World Series champions Samoa, who were defeated by the Africans in the boilover of the tournament.
Next Australia toppled eventual bronze medallists South Africa 17-1 in the semi-finals to reach their first gold medal playoff.
New Zealand were the first to score in the gold medal decider through a try to Lote Raikabula and All Black Liam Messam was sent to the bin for a reckless tackle Australia pounced and scored a try through Qantas Wallabies winger Lachie Turner.
On the tick of halftime, Wallabies Spring Tourist Luke Morahan chipped ahead and won a two-man race to touch down for Australia’s second try of the final.
Stannard’s try after the break, his fourth for the day, gave the Australians a 17-7 advantage but New Zealand struck back through a try to Sherwin Stowers before finding top gear and closing out the gold medal match with tries to skipper DJ Forbes and Kurt Baker.
Stannard played a starring role for Australia, amassing 70 points at the Games through four tries and 25 conversions.
Commonwealth Games Squad: Robbie Coleman (20, NSW), Nick Cummins (22, WA), Bernard Foley (20, NSW), Shaun Foley (24, NSW), Liam Gill (18, QLD), Ed Jenkins (24, NSW), Pat McCutcheon (23, NSW), Luke Morahan (20, QLD), Nick Phipps (21, NSW), Kimami Sitauti (19, QLD), James Stannard (27, ACT), Lachie Turner (23, NSW). Injured: Pat McCabe, Brian Sefanaia.
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