Rugby sevens: New Zealand prove standing as the masters of sevens

Fiji beaten by bitter rivals as bad-tempered final makes a mockery of 'Friendly Games' sobriquet

New Zealand dominate seven-a-side rugby the way that Lance Armstrong lords it over cycling, Tiger Woods bestrides the world of golf and Ian Thorpe rules water like a modern Poseidon clad in daft goggles and size 14 flip-flops. Entirely predictably, the silver-ferned world champions won Commonwealth gold for the second time in as many attempts, overcoming Fiji, their most bitter rivals, in a final every bit as predictable in the badness of its blood. The Friendly Games? Go tell it to the moon.

The Fijians finished with five players rather than seven: Saisi Fuli was sent off by Stuart Dickinson, the Australian Test referee, for pole-axing the brilliant Brad Fleming with a tackle bordering on the posthumous, while Jope Tuikabe was sin-binned after the final whistle for punching, which presumably means he must sit out the first two minutes of the 2006 Games. Tuikabe's little outburst forced Dickinson into recalling the combatants for one last phase of play, which allowed Roger Randle to extend the favourites' advantage to 33-15. It is hard enough playing sevens with seven. Two men short makes life just about impossible.

Eric Rush, the 37-year-old New Zealand captain who missed the final because of a rib injury – "I didn't want to be the guy that missed the tackle that cost us the tournament, so I decided not to chance it" – thought Fuli was a trifle unfortunate to see red for his assault on Fleming, and in truth, the tackle would have been perfectly legitimate had the recipient been in possession of the ball at the time of impact. But these two teams have what is euphemistically termed a "history", and there would have been real fun and games had Fuli been permitted to continue.

This emphatic victory may signal the end of the New Zealand-Fiji hegemony. Fiji played their best rugby of the tournament in the final – faced by the best side in the world, they did not so much move up a gear as swap their pushbike for a 500cc road monster – and, in Waisale Serevi, they possessed a player of unique vision, a leader equipped with the mixture of wit and imperturbability that separates the very finest practitioners of the sporting art from the great mass of humanity. But Serevi is nowhere near as quick on his feet as he once was, and in the aftermath, he pointedly refused to commit to performing in next season's World Sevens Series.

Without him, Fiji are likely to go quiet for a while. South Africa, bronze medallists here, are now the ones with New Zealand in their sights – George Muller, Jean de Villiers, Egon Seconds and the disturbingly rapid Fabian Juries made enough big statements at the Games to form their own parliament – and with England and Australia also on the rise, a new order is beginning to emerge. The Wallabies were involved in the match of the tournament, a stupendous quarter-final with Samoa that ended with the gifted Julian Huxley hitting both posts with a conversion that would have sent the tie into overtime and, on another day, they might have challenged hard for the gold.

Huxley's agony was shared by every last member of the squad, however, and they fell apart against a motivated England in the final of the Plate competition. (There was a Bowl event too, and, if sevens grows much more, there will soon have to be saucer and egg cup awards to go with the three existing pieces of crockery). The England team blew hot and cold throughout the three days, reverting to safety-first type in a tight quarter-final with Fiji on Saturday night – they preferred to kicked for touch rather than back themselves against the islanders' big-hit tackling – before entering into the true spirit of the short game against the Australians.

Phil Greening, the chrome-domed hooker from Wasps, played a captain's knock in the Plate final, scoring two of England's six tries. Eighteen hours previously, his spirits had been at gutter level; his wild throw to an important defensive line-out had led directly to Fiji's winning try, scored by Rupeni Caucaunibuca and converted, crucially, by Serevi. "I just wanted to go home," Greening admitted yesterday. "From thinking and believing that we could have beaten the Fijians – I still think and believe it now, of course – I suddenly felt that I'd had enough of rugby. But the banter at breakfast was good, and we all wanted to repay the coaching team for their efforts. So we went out in good heart, with the pressure off. We were after gold, obviously, but sticking 30 points on the Aussies is not so bad when you weight it up."

England may not possess the heavy artillery found in every area of the New Zealand team: sevens specialists of the calibre of Fleming, Craig de Goldi, Craig Newby and Rodney So'Oialo are not found in great numbers, and their coach, the wizened old maestro Gordon Tietjens, has them between the shafts all year round. But the Paul Sampsons and Josh Lewseys of the red rose parish are as quick and direct as most, and if Jason Robinson, James Simpson-Daniel and James Forrester are drafted in when needs must, the next World Cup Sevens in 2005 will be a legitimate target.

Arts and Entertainment
filmPoldark production team claims innocence of viewers' ab frenzy
Life and Style
Google marks the 81st anniversary of the Loch Ness Monster's most famous photograph
techIt's the 81st anniversary of THAT iconic photograph
News
Katie Hopkins makes a living out of courting controversy
people
News
General Election
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders