New Zealand dominate at Wellington Sevens
February 9, 2014
New Zealand celebrate a remarkable tournament performance with a haka for the Wellington crowd © Getty Images
New Zealand shut out South Africa 21-0 in the Wellington final to complete one of the great second-day performances at an International Rugby Board World Sevens Series tournament. The series defending champions also reclaimed the lead in the nine-leg circuit with four tournaments to play, inching two points ahead of the South Africans, who had won the last two finals.
While the Blitzbokke had beaten New Zealand in both of those deciders - at Port Elizabeth and Las Vegas - they weren't in the contest on Saturday against a home side that won the popular Wellington tournament for the seventh time in 15 editions.
All three converted tries came in the first half, with two to wing Sherwin Stowers giving him a tournament-best eight. The opener, to Tim Mikkelson, was the first try South Africa conceded for the day after beating Australia and Fiji by the same 10-0 scoreline earlier on Saturday.
However, that record didn't stack up against New Zealand's, who scored 76 unanswered points in their three games, beating Canada 24-0 in the quarter-finals and England 31-0 in the semi-finals. After losing their opening pool match to Fiji 12-7, New Zealand bounced back to score a remarkable 178 points without conceding any.
They adapted best to wet conditions on Saturday, employing a long kicking game and attacking opposition ruck ball effectively. The speed and sevens nous of players like Mikkelson, Stowers and Gillies Kaka proved the difference in the big games, along with a ferocious team defence. South Africa spent the final five minutes of the final on attack but couldn't break down a desperate tackling effort led by captain DJ Forbes.
"The loss to Fiji woke us up a little bit, to the extent that we got our defence right," New Zealand coach Gordon Tietjens said. "Defence wins tournaments. What really capped it off was the final tackle of the final - it was a great, great tackle."
Tietjens was referring to a desperate lunge from 18-year-old Akira Ioane to deny Jamba Ulengo as he dived for the corner at the end of a long period of Blitzbokke attack.
"We had the game won but the drive for no one to cross our line was still there," he said.
The outcome leaves New Zealand (99 points) and South Africa (97) contesting a two-horse race for the series crown. Third-placed Fiji (73) beat England (68) 14-7 courtesy of a late try in the playoff for third place.
Australia climbed one place to fifth overall (59 points) after also scoring a try after the hooter to Ed Jenkins to head off Canada 12-10 in the Plate final.
The sixth leg of the series is in Tokyo on March 22-23.
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