The event has been dominated by New Zealand since debuting at the Games in 1998
History of the Commonwealth Games sevens tournaments
Rugby sevens was first played at the Commonwealth Games at the 16th edition in 1998, when it was added as a male-only sport for the event in Kuala Lumpur. The first women’s competition was held at the Gold Coast Games in 2018.
New Zealand have utterly dominated the men’s tournament since its inception. They have won five of the six men’s events, with only South Africa’s gold medal in 2014 interrupting the All Blacks’ stranglehold. The inaugural women’s competition in 2018 had a familiar conclusion, as New Zealand saw off Australia to secure top spot on the podium.
Who takes part?
The competition, like the Games as a whole, is open to all members of the British Commonwealth and their dependent territories. The vast majority are former colonies of the British empire and remain connected to the United Kingdom through this union, which serves as a symbolic institution. Events such as the Commonwealth Games intend to promote the members’ shared values.
In a reflection of Britain’s role in introducing rugby around the globe, many of the sport’s heavyweights compete. England, Scotland and Wales (who do not play together as part of Great Britain like they do at the Olympics) are regular participants, as are South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Samoa.
However, the Games offers less-heralded rugby nations a chance to mix it with the traditional elite. India, Zambia and Barbados are just a few of the countries that have competed despite the prevalence of other sports in their respective societies, while Kenya’s reputation as a growing sevens force has been mirrored by their improvements at the Commonwealths Games sevens over the years.
In total, 27 countries from six different continents have competed in the Games’ rugby sevens tournaments. The tiny Pacific island of Niue participated in 2002 and 2006, while Trinidad and Tobago, the Bahamas and the Cayman Islands have also overcome their relatively small size and population to participate. Elsewhere, cricket-obsessed Sri Lanka have qualified for every men’s tournament to date and will make their debut on the women’s side in Birmingham in 2022.
Perhaps the biggest name never to play is Northern Ireland. Unlike in most international rugby competitions, it is not merged with the Republic of Ireland, which is not part of the Commonwealth and thus has not featured either.
Who won each tournament?
The first tournament in the Malaysian capital set the tone for what was to follow. With Jonah Lomu, Christian Cullen and Rico Gear in their ranks, New Zealand overawed their helpless group stage opponents. Though they were pushed by Samoa in the semi-finals and by Waisale Serevi’s Fiji in the gold medal game, rugby’s most iconic nation emerged victorious.
Four years later in Manchester, the result was almost identical. New Zealand, now with Mils Muliaina in their ranks, were untroubled on their way to the final, where they met Fiji again. Despite the islanders boasting a talented squad featuring Serevi, Vilimoni Delasau and Rupeni Caucaunibuca, the champions defended their title comfortably.
The 2006 Games in Melbourne at least saw a new finalist, as an England team including Danny Care, Matthew Tait and Tom Varndell beat Fiji in the semis to earn a shot at toppling New Zealand. The title, however, stayed with the defending champions, as it did once more in 2010 in Delhi.
New Zealand were at last defeated at the 2014 Glasgow Games. Their typically routine run through the early stages did not indicate a new gold medalist was imminent, but South Africa had other ideas. Two tries from Seabelo Senatla and one from Cecil Afrika earned the Blitzboks a 17-12 victory in the gold medal game, handing the All Blacks their first loss at the Commonwealth Games Sevens – in their 31st match.
New Zealand did regain their men’s title in 2018 in Gold Coast, Australia, beating Fiji in the final for the third time. However, the tournament was made notable by the introduction of the women’s sevens competition. Eight nations took part, with Australia, Canada, New Zealand and England making the semi-finals. After comfortable wins in the last four, Australia and New Zealand met in an epic final. A late Ellia Green try for the host nation sent the game into extra-time, before the Black Ferns’ Kelly Brazier touched down after running from her own 22 to secure gold in spectacular fashion.
As for the all-time medal table, New Zealand are streets ahead of the field with six golds and a bronze, while South Africa’s solitary title means they sit second. Fiji’s three runners-up finishes earn them third, while Australia and England, the only two other nations to win medals, are fourth and fifth respectively.
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