Australia topped its group in the Commonwealth Games rugby sevens tournament with a 15-7 win over England, but the most enthusiastic cheer of Saturday night’s play at Ibrox was reserved for a team that lost by 59 points.
After Australia fell behind to a Marcus Ashton chip-chase try, Cameron Clark, Sean McMahon and Jesse Parahi each scored to secure a place in the quarter finals against Wales on Sunday. The catch was that the win placed Australia in New Zealand’s half of the draw.
The preliminary rounds elicited mixed feelings, with some games not feeling like contests so much as time-trials. South Africa’s Cornal Hendricks scored a hat-trick of tries within two minutes against Cook Islands, and some of the matches had teams racing the clock to rack up points in what were effectively semi-opposed training sessions.
Grave fears were held for Barbados who, after losing 68-5 to Canada and 56-0 to Scotland, were then served up to New Zealand. They did benefit from the support of 50,000 instant fans, who had, just over an hour earlier, been cheering every try Scotland scored against Barbados as if they had never seen running, try-scoring rugby before.
But now they were honorary Bajans, as the record books were scoured. The answer was 93 points, New Zealand versus the Bahamas in the Commonwealth Games of 1998. In sevens, a coach can say to his team, ‘There’s only fifteen minutes to go, we can still score 93 points in that time.’ Anything less than that, it was thought, would count as a moral victory.
The brave Bajans conceded just 35 points in the first half, so they had put the Kiwis behind the clock. New Zealand coach Gordon Tietjens seemed agitated, even angry, with his side at half-time. So much for the Friendly Games.
Early in the second half, New Zealand’s Sam Dickson was sin-binned for a lifting tackle, and Barbados brought on four fresh players to capitalise. It worked. During the two minutes Dickson was off, New Zealand scored just two tries. As the crowd lifted, chanting ‘Bar-ba-dos! Bar-ba-dos!’ the Calypsos staged a doughty fightback.
New Zealand knocked on in the last play, ensuring that their score would max out at 59-0. A couple of Bajan players lifted their arms in a spontaneous show of triumph, or survival, and the roar from the crowd was as if Rangers had beaten Celtic. The Bajans did a half-lap of honour and the New Zealanders skulked off, heads bowed. Victory has many faces. Barbados had just uncovered a new one.