Rugby Sevens: It's a Blackwash in final

By Daniel Richardson

New Zealand was well served by stalwart DJ Forbes in the Wellington Sevens. Photo / Getty Images
New Zealand was well served by stalwart DJ Forbes in the Wellington Sevens. Photo / Getty Images

New Zealand reclaimed the lead at the top of the sevens world series after they took tournament honours in Wellington last night with a 21-0 win over rivals South Africa in the final.

Last night's final marked the third tournament running the two teams had met in the decider. South Africa got the better of New Zealand 14-7 in Las Vegas two weeks ago, while they also toppled Sir Gordon Tietjens' men on their home soil 17-14 in December.

But New Zealand's win last night also snapped a five-match losing run against South Africa in all matches, dating back to 2012, as they leapfrogged the Blitzbokke on the series standings after five rounds.

New Zealand made their way to last night's final via a 31-0 semifinal victory over England, which marked their fourth game on the bounce where they didn't concede a point.

After dropping their opening game in pool play 12-7 to Fiji on Friday, New Zealand were a changed outfit. South Africa also lost in the group stages as they were upset by England on day one but looked comfortable on their way to the showpiece game of the weekend as they beat Fiji 10-0 in a tough semifinal.

With a boisterous home crowd screaming them home, New Zealand were rarely troubled in the final as a 21-point first-half assault set the tone.

With rain being a constant throughout the weekend, New Zealand played the conditions expertly as they made their charge to the title, including a notable change of tactics - using the boot.

"I just feel since the loss [to Fiji] we picked up," Tietjens said. "Obviously we've really worked on our defence. Defence wins tournaments, there's no question about that but we've been playing some smart footy in these conditions at the same time and that's a real key.

"We are not a team that ever kicks but, when you're going to put a lot of pressure on, we can bring our defensive line up and put them under a lot of pressure and get turnovers."

Playmaker Gillies Kaka was given a host of opportunities throughout the tournament, partly to help first-choice pivot Tomasi Cama work his way back from a torn calf but also as part of Tietjens' wider plan to build depth in his squad.

"Gillies is a class player as well and so is Tomasi," Tietjens said. "It's just getting the right guys on the track if you need to."

Kaka also possesses a decent punt which helped New Zealand's kick-based style of play in the greasy conditions.

Aside from a consistent tournament from Kaka, Tietjens was also well served by stalwarts DJ Forbes, Tim Mikkelson and Bryce Heem. In the backline, the returning Sherwin Stowers and Ben Lam, who both missed the trip to Las Vegas, enjoyed a strong showing in Wellington.

"With that extra experience in the midfield, it has just lifted our younger guys and they're actually picking up on that as well, which is great; they've done the hard yards," Tietjens said.

One of those young guys, Akira Ioane, was used sparingly throughout the tournament but all the pieces are there for the 18-year-old to become a force in the future.

In the battle of the beaten semifinalists, Fiji claimed third place with a 14-7 win over England.

In the minor results, Australia pipped Canada 12-10 in the plate final, Kenya picked up the bowl with a 24-14 win over Scotland and the United States beat Spain 28-12 to claim the shield.

The world series now takes a six-week break before making it's next stop in Tokyo from March 22-23. From there, the players head to Hong Kong from March 28-30 before the circuit finishes with tournaments in Scotland and then England in the first two weeks of May.

- APNZ

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