Gold, silver and avoiding VD - A history of rugby at the Games
July 24, 2014
Rico Gear leads New Zealand's celebratory haka in 2010 © Getty Images
This weekend, 16 nations will aim to become the fifth winner of the Commonwealth Games rugby crown. To date, this specific discipline has been painted black with New Zealand winning all four since the sport was introduced to the Games back in 1998. The short form of rugby is currently enjoying an ever-increasing profile with it now an Olympic sport ahead of the Rio bonanza in two years time and Scrum Sevens looks back at how rugby has fared in both the early Olympics and the past four Commonwealth Games.
1900 Olympics - Paris
Rugby first took its bow in the Paris showpiece back in 1900 with just three nations entering teams. The French played matches against Germany, whose team was predominantly made up of players from 1880 Frankfurt, and Great Britain, who had a strong Moseley influence. France faced Germany first and won 27-17 and then saw off Great Britain 27-8 but there was no third game between the two defeated sides. France scooped the gold medal, in what was a 15-man aside format, while Germany and Great Britain shared the bronze.
France face Germany in the 1900 Olympics © Getty Images
1908 Olympics - London
After rugby sat out the 1904 and 1906 games, it was reinstated for the 1908 showpiece where they played in the White City Stadium. It was a fairly poorly organised tournament with South Africa and New Zealand rejecting their invites leaving just Great Britain, France and Australia competing for the title. France withdrew leaving just Australia and the hosts. It was a good time in Australian rugby and they had an easy job of winning the gold dispatching Great Britain 32-3.
According to the Australia captain, Dr. Herbert Moran, he was not overly impressed by the whole occasion and said the true feat was getting the "team home after five months away without a single player contracting venereal disease."
1920 Olympics - Antwerp
More national apathy greeted the 1920 showpiece with just France and the USA competing for the title. The general consensus was that France would walk the match in Antwerp but they were woefully underprepared and fell 8-0 to the USA. Such was the multi-tasking ability of USA's Morris Kirksey, he also won gold in the 4x100 metre relay.
The 1920 USA team © Scrum.com
1998 Commonwealth Games - Kuala Lumpur
The first ever exposure rugby had to the Commonwealth Games saw the sport offer an embarrassment of riches in horrendously hot conditions in the Petaling Jaya Stadium in Malaysia. Those who journeyed to Kuala Lumpur saw the Sevens specialist, Waisale Serevi, the superstar, Jonah Lomu, and the fading master, David Campese. How Glasgow would surely wish they had that calibre of player on show at Ibrox this weekend.
It was no surprise New Zealand won. Not only did they have Lomu, they also paired him with Christian Cullen and the sensational Joele Vidiri alongside then youngsters Rico Gear, Caleb Ralph and Bruce Reihana all working under Eric Rush. In the end they faced Serevi's Fiji in the final and the Kiwis eased to a 21-12 triumph. For Campese, he helped Australia to the bronze medal thanks to a 33-12 win over Samoa in a match which proved to be his final act in the green and gold of Australia.
2002 Commonwealth Games - Manchester
New Zealand went into the Manchester Games off the back of three consecutive World Series titles and for all the world looked to have the title in the bag before they even set foot on the City of Manchester Stadium turf. But like 1998, there were some fantastic players on show. South Africa had Jean de Villiers, England included Josh Lewsey while Fiji unleashed Rupeni Caucaunibuca, a man who would a year later make a serious dent in the 2003 Rugby World Cup. The Nieu Island, a country with a population of 1,611, also took their place in the Games and performed admirably against the more fancied sides.
Jonah Lomu runs through the Samoan defence in 1998 © Getty Images
But New Zealand had form behind them. Though skipper Rush missed the final due to a rib injury, they still had Chris Masoe, Rodney So'oialo and Mils Muliaina in their ranks and they beat six-man Fiji, who had Saisi Fuli shown a straight red card, in the final minute of their final. De Villiers' South Africa took the bronze with Paul Treu, later the coach of South Africa's Sevens side, also in their ranks.
2006 Commonwealth Games - Melbourne
Australia went big for their home Games. Their team included Lote Tuqiri, Matt Giteau and Chris Latham and despite reaching the semi-finals of the competition, they finished in medal-less fourth in a match overshadowed by a fit suffered by Scott Fava, who was released from hospital the day after.
There was a predictability about the tournament with the Kiwis in imperious form, though it was Fiji who lifted that year's World Series. For Fiji, they were knocked out in the semi-finals by an England team featuring both Sevens specialists - Simon Amor and Ben Gollings - and players who would later shine in XVs - Danny Care, Tom Varndell and Mathew Tait. The final had echoes of the two previous triumphs for New Zealand. They were pushed close but their class prevailed with Cory Jane, Liam Messam and Tamati Ellison part of their party.
2010 Commonwealth Games - Delhi
The 2010 Delhi Games once again witnessed a blackwash as the Kiwis took their fourth-straight title on the bounce. While they saw off Australia in the final 24-17, there were some standout performances from players who are now well integrated in the 15-man form of the game. For Australia they had the likes of Nick Cummins and Liam Gill in their squad while the Kiwis enjoyed having Ben Smith, Liam Messam and Hosea Gear in the mix. For Smith, the tournament was a huge success as he caught the eye with a series of remarkable performances. South Africa took the bronze medal with a 17-14 win over England. One downside to the Games was the absence of Fiji who were suspended from the Commonwealth due to a military coup in 2006.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Associate Editor of ESPNscrum.
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