Five years ago at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, New Zealand enjoyed a double celebration after winning the men's and women's Rugby World Cup Sevens titles.
It was a second men's title for New Zealand under coach Gordon Tietjens – and first since 2001 in Argentina – and a first for the women, four years after they had lost to Australia in sudden-death extra-time in the inaugural competition in Dubai.
Tim Mikkelson and Sarah Goss were part of those celebrations in a rain-soaked Russian capital back in June 2013 and also three months ago on Australia's Gold Coast when New Zealand again did the double, this time in winning Commonwealth Games gold medals with victories over Olympic champions Fiji and Australia.
“It was a pretty special moment [in 2013], we were an inexperienced team,” recalled Goss, who last year joined a select group of just seven players to have won Rugby World Cups in both sevens and 15s after helping the Black Ferns to Women's Rugby World Cup glory in Ireland.“
“It was a difficult tournament, it was sunny leading up to the final and then that storm changed the dynamic of the game, but it was still incredible to take a Rugby World Cup home and a sevens title that we’d never won before.
“It’s definitely going to give us extra motivation to do the same again here in San Francisco.
“We train at the same facility day in, day out and to be able to share the success with our boys’ team is amazing. We all want the same thing, we all train just as hard and I hope we do the same on Saturday and Sunday.”
Mikkelson and Goss have since taken on the respective captaincies, the former in tandem with Scott Curry who remembers being “gutted” at missing out on selection for Moscow 2013.
The New Zealand women were first to the silverware in Moscow, adding a first World Cup crown to the inaugural world series title they had won in 2013. Portia Woodman and Kelly Brazier – like Goss members of that select club – were among the Black Ferns Sevens' try scorers as they established a 17-5 half-time lead against Canada in the final. Canada did cut deficit to just five points with Ghislaine Landry's try but another Woodman score, her 12th of the tournament, and one from Kayla McAlister ensured gold for New Zealand.
The men's final was a lot more one-sided with the All Blacks Sevens coping with the wet conditions far better than England both physically and mentally, meaning that once Mikkelson had waltzed his way over for the first of his two tries there was little doubt it would be a double celebration for New Zealand. The final score was 33-0, allowing captain DJ Forbes to lift the coveted Melrose Cup.
Four “finals” to play
The success in Moscow also meant that for the first time New Zealand held all four Rugby World Cups across sevens and 15s at the same time, a scenario they will hope is still true come Sunday evening at AT&T Park. If it is then another chapter of RWC Sevens history will have been written as no nation has ever won back-to-back titles.
Goss, Mikkelson and Curry all know that will be no easy task for either New Zealand team to achieve, especially with the innovative knock-out format of RWC Sevens 2018 that means four victories will be required to lift the coveted silverware.
“To win a World Cup I think it is just about executing under pressure really,” admitted Mikkelson, who was named World Rugby Men's Sevens Player of the Year after the Moscow final with McAlister claiming the inaugural women's accolade.
“There are so many teams coming here who could win and it is really what team can execute under pressure. There are only four games and if you lose you are out. You have got to play every game like a final and New Zealand have been pretty good at that so hopefully we can step up and do the business.
“It [Going back-to-back] is something we have talked about, we have talked about this team I suppose making its own history and its own legacy. No team has ever done that and I don't think any team has ever won two pinnacle events back-to-back in the same year either so it's definitely something we are trying to do.
“We want to make history but it is not going to be easy to do.”
A sentiment echoed by Goss as captain of a Black Ferns Sevens side that have been in sublime form over the last few months, winning gold at the Commonwealth Games and the series rounds in Kitakyushu, Langford and Paris amid a 23-match winning run.
“It’s going to be extremely tough,” she said. “With the knock-out format and the quality of teams at a World Cup it’s going to be extremely challenging, but I have full confidence in the girls and the way we’ve been performing over the last few months and we’re just really excited to start playing on Friday.
“We’re extremely hungry to defend our title and to take another Rugby World Cup home to New Zealand is going to be pretty special for the people back there.”
The first step in that quest will see the Black Ferns Sevens opening their campaign against RWC Sevens debutants Mexico with their male counterparts having to wait to learn whether they will face Russia or Hong Kong in the round of 16 later on day one.
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