NZ Sevens survive on an eventful opening day
New Zealand will face Kenya in tonight's quarterfinals, ahead of a likely semi against England, after they survived an eventful opening day with their unbeaten Commonwealth Games rugby sevens record intact.
There were a few hiccups for New Zealand who survived a big fright from the hosts before beating Scotland 17-14. They also avoided sanction for an apparent rule breach and picked up an injury concern for Pita Ahki, their only current Super Rugby player.
Sam Dickson could also be in hot water, after he was yellow carded for a dangerous tackle in the 59-0 win over Barbados.
Coach Gordon Tietjens' side won all three of their matches to top pool A, but his worry lines increased when Ahki suffered a hamstring injury and is in doubt for day two when the medals are decided. He will be assessed by medical staff before tonight's quarterfinal against Kenya (11.06pm NZT). Safely through that, New Zealand will face the winner of England versus Samoa, with the gold medal match scheduled for 8.37am on Monday morning (NZT).
Unbeaten at Commonwealth Games since the sport's introduction in 1998, New Zealand nearly lost their proud record when beating a fired up Scotland at a heaving Ibrox Stadium.
The Scots, who included players of the calibre of Stuart Hogg and Sean Lamont, trailed 17-0 but stormed back in a frantic second half when New Zealand were reduced to five men. Gillies Kaka and Tim Mikkelson were yellow carded for killing the ball within 30 seconds of each other by South African referee Marius van der Westhuizen as the home crowd at Rangers' football ground reached fever pitch.
New Zealand won a crucial penalty in their own half and cleared safely to close out victory, but came under scrutiny for Mikkelson appearing to return from the sin bin too early. Having been carded for two minutes with 1min 50sec remaining, he shouldn't have returned but New Zealand had a full complement on the field when fulltime sounded.
Scotland coach Stephen Gemmell put Mikkelson's return down to referee error and ruled out making an official complaint.
"An error was made that had no direct impact on the outcome of the game. We had given away a free kick at the line-out as the clock ran down and had given New Zealand the ball," Gemmell said.
"Like our errors, the referees will analyse their performances and we hope this will be taken on board."
Tietjens, meanwhile, said a sideline official had given Mikkelson the all clear to return to the field.
A double by Sherwin Stowers and a try by Ben Lam was enough to build a handy 17-0 buffer at the break.
In their other pool match, New Zealand beat Canada 39-0 in the tournament opener.
Said captain DJ Forbes: "It doesn't have to be pretty, you just have to get the three wins. You can't look too far into that Barbados game. As for Scotland, we knew the crowd would lift them to another level but you've got to remember we played with five players for a period. To guts it out and defend like we did will stand us in good stead for tomorrow."
On the other side of the draw, South Africa and Australia were both unbeaten while Samoa qualified top of pool C. Australia beat England 15-7 in the big match of the day, which saw them book a quarterfinal against Wales. South Africa, seen as the biggest danger to New Zealand's gold medal hopes, and Scotland are down to meet in what should be a cracking quarterfinal.