Andrew Alderson

Andrew Alderson is a sport writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Rugby sevens: Double Cup glory for New Zealand

Double World Cup glory for New Zealand at Luzhniki stadium this morning.

First the women with a 29-12 win over Canada, then the men with a 33-0 victory over England meant New Zealand set the standard at the most major sevens tournament before the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

Torrential rain broke a heatwave which lasted several days, meaning both finals were played in mud baths. Both New Zealand teams' skills in the conditions, whether picking up balls from bootlaces, tackling and snaffling possession or kicking for territory were exemplary.

Sir Gordon Tietjens' men produced a dramatic turnaround from scratchy pool play to take their second World Cup and the first in 12 years. Their two previous attempts failed despite winning 11 of 14 world series since the advent of the circuit in 1999-00.

The tournament continued to be played in front of a largely empty stadium.

Attempted chants seemed to echo off the 89,000 mostly-vacant seats.

In the final the Kiwi men played a territory based game after securing early tries to Tim Mikkelson (2) and Tomasi Cama. They sat on a 21-0 lead at halftime and pushed England back through tactical kicking and a wealth of possession. England had few answers.

For the most part MIkkelson's running was incisive in his best game of the tournament. The team was helped by composure of captain DJ Forbes and veteran Tomasi Cama.

"It was quite disruptive with the weather but we stuck to our game plan against England. It was a comprehensive win. They played right into our hands and we knew they would," said Tietjens.

"I couldn't believe our luck when they kept kicking it back to us. It might have been a kickfest at times but we had too. I don't normally like doing it but today was about winning a World Cup which meant playing percentages and the best footy."

Meanwhile, after winning their inaugural world series, the New Zealand women, who are fast becoming known as the 'Sevens Sisters', continued their dominance on a sodden Luzhniki stadium turf.

Canada, who they beat 20-5 in pool play, were dismissed as decisively as any other opponents in the final. The women beat England 24-7 in the quarter-finals and the United States 19-10 in the last four.

New Zealand's 'rubber band theory' game plan was simple but effective, as it has been all tournament: back your fitness levels, exhaust the opposition by playing width and stretching it across the field - then ping through the gaps. Coach Sean Horan deserves credit for recognising that was the team's best strategy.

Wings Honey Hireme and Portia Woodman are explosive resources capable of bending defensive lines. They were helped by clinical play-making from captain Huriana Manuel, Kelly Brazier and Kayla McAlister. Of the starting seven, Linda Itunu delivers bruising tackles and Sarah Goss was abrasive in contact. Brazier's option to use wipers kicks behind the Canada defence was masterstroke in the wet final.

"It was all about possession and territory, when we needed to play down there we did. I tried to pin it in the corners," Brazier said after the final.

"The conditions have been extreme. Yesterday it was warm and humid; today it was a mudbath and tough under foot."

Woodman's sidestep was a tournament highlight. It resembled the female version of Bryan Williams in his pomp. She still managed to produce one on the sodden turf in the final to score under the posts.

"I've been watching Kelly Brazier, she's the man in our team, so I've been learning off her. Netball probably helps as well. It's nice when it comes off."

Her pace helped New Zealand score another; Portia might well become Porsche.

Earlier, the New Zealand men struck a literal perfect storm when the rain came.

In what could well be a world first, rugby players left a field because of poor weather. To be fair it was because of the lightning threat rather than the downpour. The subsequent thunder rolled around the stadium rim.

It played perfectly into New Zealand hands - or at least out of Fiji's. New Zealand had established a 12-0 lead when they exited and the ball became uncontrollable upon return. Fiji couldn't get any traction either and became easier to chase down. New Zealand won 17-0

A rejuvenated New Zealand dismantled Wales 26-10 in the quarter-finals after three unconvincing pool play wins.

The victory had a sense of utu; Wales ousted New Zealand from the 2009 World Cup, also at the quarter-final stage.

Play-maker Gillies Kaka said that was a key motivation for captain DJ Forbes, Tomasi Cama and Lote Raikabula who were part of the previous team.

"Some of the older boys had it in their minds; it was good to get one back for them."

Kaka says coach Tietjens had a key tip to better results: "He said get closer and get your shoulder on them instead of grabbing jerseys. We went out with more mongrel and it paid off."

*Andrew Alderson travelled to Moscow courtesy of New Zealand Rugby

- Herald on Sunday

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