By Gary Lemke
South Africa inflicted a first-ever Commonwealth Games defeat on New Zealand as they won the gold medal at Glasgow 2014, winning a tense final 17-12 in front of a crowd of 50 000 at Ibrox.
Two tries by the speedster Seabelo Senatla and the clincher by Cecil Afrika, after a 60m dash to the left-hand corner, were enough to produce the victory.
Kyle Brown, their inspirational captain, left the field as early as the second minute when he dislocated his right shoulder and after prolonged treatment he was forced off the field. On an occasion such as this, one knew it was only wild horses or an injury that could drag him away from the action.
It was the Kiwis who struck first when Sherwin Stowers finished off a move right through the middle of the South African defence after New Zealand had taken a quick tap from a penalty. That put them 7-0 up and the odds looked stacked against them.
However, a yellow card for a petulant kicking away of the ball by Bryce Heem saw the South Africans head into the last two minutes before half-time with a man advantage. They managed to capitalise shortly before the hooter when Sanatla punched a hole through the defence and crossed over under the poles for his 10th try of the weekend, leaving the scores 7-all at the interval.
Senatla struck early in the second half after good work by Frankie Horn and New Zealand were rattled by a physical performance from South Africa who matched the champions at the breakdown. Tackling like demons in broken play, the South Africans refused to allow their opponents a sniff back into the contest. They turned that 0-7 deficit into a 17-7 lead before the Kiwis crossed over for a late consolation try.
In the semi-finals, South Africa swept past a physical Samoa side to win 35-7, running in five tries in the process. Earlier in the day they had thumped Scotland 38-12 in reaching the last four.
New Zealand had got to the final after subduing Australia, who comfortably beat a deflated Samoa 24-0 for the bronze medal.
The Kiwis had never lost a game at the Commonwealth Games since the first tournament in 1998.
‘We knew they’d be physical but we had a plan. We’ll step it up more in the final,’ South African captain Kyle Brown said after the victory over Samoa.
In fairness all the sting was taken out that contest when Samoa received two yellow cards towards the end of the first half, which at one stage had a seven against five contest.
Samoa had drawn first blood and gone 7-0 up before Cornal Hendricks finished off a good move which Branco du Preez converted for 7-all. A yellow card helped provide Hendricks with the space to give him his second try and it was 14-7 at the interval.
Soon after that it became 21-7 via a Chris Dry try, again converted by Du Preez and it was all over by the time Cecil Afrika and Werner Kok applied the finishing touches. ‘All credit to the guys,’ said coach Neil Powell. ‘We’re building momentum ahead of the final.’ How right he was.
In the quarter-final played under pregnant skies after days of blazing sunshine, South Africa also ran in five tries to two to beat Scotland.
Senatla dotted down twice, taking his tournament try tally to nine, as they powered into a 21-0 lead that was always going to be too much for the out-gunned Scots to haul back.
There is no doubt that South Africa had been impressive all weekend. In fact, going into the final they had been the pick of the teams on display. The two tries they conceded in the quarter-final were the first points they have leaked all weekend and the solitary one against Samoa made it only three going into the final. ‘In an ideal world that’s three too many,’ argued Brown, ahead of the big one.