Rugby Sevens: Tait more dazzling than silver but Kiwis win third Sevens gold in a row
Saturday 18 March 2006
The silver ferns finished with the gold medals but the silver medallists had the golden boy. Last seen in the international spotlight being shunted halfway from Cardiff to Abergavenny, everything about Mathew Tait glistened with gold, save for the medal which hung from his neck on the last day of the Commonwealth Games Sevens.
The Newcastle centre was sparkling enough in the pool stages on Thursday. Yesterday, at the business end of events, he was simply dazzling. "He's certainly got that X-factor," said Gordon Tietjens, coach of the winning New Zealand team. "I can't believe he's not in the England 15s squad now."
There were 49,999 others in a state of disbelief in a world record Sevens audience beneath the roof of the Telstra Dome. New Zealand emerged from the gold-medal match victorious by 29-21, claiming a third Commonwealth crown out of three, but Tait's trailblazer of a try will live longest in the memory.
It started with a skip on the England 22 that left Tamati Ellison (the great-grandson of Tom Ellison, the first New Zealand rugby captain and the man who suggested they should wear an all black strip) clutching at thin air. The Newcastle Falcon took off on an 80-metre flight before touching down under the posts.
The fledgling who had his wings so unceremoniously clipped by Gavin Henson on his England debut, the day before his 19th birthday in February 2005, has become a man of some distinction. In a tournament blessed with the Wallabies Lote Tuqiri, Chris Latham and Matt Giteau, the 20-year-old finished top of the class with nine tries.
Before the final there was a dramatic, jinking score that clinched a 17-14 quarter-final win against Samoa six seconds from the hooter, and a brilliant long-range effort in a 21-14 semi-final success against Fiji. It was the kind of stuff that has been lamentably lacking from England's midfield thus far in the Six Nations Championship.
"When Mathew does become a part of the England midfield he will bring a new dimension," said Mike Friday, England's Sevens coach. "I know Robbo [Andy Robinson, the England coach] was watching today and he'll be excited by what he's seen.
"Robbo is very mindful of his previous experience. It's all about timing, in getting it right for Mathew, so that when he makes the transition to the senior set-up he is there for a long time."
"I just like playing," said Tait. "I've thoroughly enjoyed my time out here."
Wales enjoyed their time in Melbourne too, winning the Plate competition with a 29-28 success against South Africa.
Australia finished with a defeat in the bronze-medal match to Fiji, and with Scott Fava in the Royal Melbourne Hospital after suffering convulsions on the pitch. Thankfully, the Wallaby back-rower was in a stable condition overnight.
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