New Zealand underlined their status as the team to beat at the Commonwealth Games rugby sevens on Tuesday as they crushed World Cup winners Wales 31-10 to enter the semifinals.
They face England in the next round, who came through a tough test against a typically physical Samoan side 7-5 despite never fully finding their rhythm in a hot and humid conditions in New Delhi.
“When you come across a team like New Zealand you know they are going to run you off the park,” said defeated Welshman Richie Pugh. “We were there for the first eight minutes, but second half they just pulled away.”
“They’re strong but I still think they’re beatable.”
In search of a record fourth gold
Fitness is likely to be key in the other semifinal that pitches an improving Australian side, which beat Kenya 27-5, against South Africa, who were pushed to the limit by Scotland in a close game that ended 10-7.
New Zealand are in search of a record-making fourth consecutive gold medal, having won every Commonwealth Games competition since the sport was introduced in 1998 in Kuala Lumpur.
Their path has been eased by the absence of twice silver medallists Fiji, who are banned from taking part after being suspended from the Commonwealth in 2006 after a military coup.
The Kiwis have drafted in a handful of All Blacks players, including speedster Hosea Gear who continued his impressive scoring record from the first day with another try against Wales.
England captain Ben Gollings said his team would fight New Zealand all the way in the semis despite a tough and narrowly won game against Samoa and a bruising encounter with Australia on Monday night.
Many players looked tired as they left the pitch after some exhausting defensive work against the Samoans, who dominated the first half.
“We held out. We kept our heads today [Tuesday],” sevens veteran Gollings said. “We’ve got more to go. We’re fit.”
Gollings’s teammate, Simon Hunt, insisted England “didn’t come here to come second”.
“The hard games give you robust conditioning,” he said. “We’ll be alright. We’ve got chocibars and drinks and stuff.”
‘We’ve still yet to peak’
Australia have an easier run to the final than England, taking on the South Africans next, who have impressed despite having their first team ravaged by injuries in the run-up to the tournament.
“Every game we’re getting better,” Wallaby flyer Lachie Turner said. “We’ve still yet to peak.”
Rugby tickets have been sold out for weeks, but the crowd was again thin on Tuesday despite the array of top-class athletes on display. Stands were at best a third full, a slight improvement on Monday.
Poor crowds have been a theme of the Delhi Games, which have been dogged by accidents and organisational problems blamed on the rushed preparations for the event because of construction delays. — AFP