South Africa are deservedly the 2017 Wellington Cup champions following a clinical 26-5 victory over crowd favourites Fiji.
Despite falling behind 5-0 after Joeli Lutumailagi showed his sheer pace by skinning Seabelo Senatla on the outside, South Africa hit back with four tries, including one to the prolific Senatla, who moves to No 1 on the all-time South African sevens tryscoring list with 180. Ruan Nel sealed the result with a brace.
The Blitzbokke last won in Wellington way back in 2002.
South Africa take a 12-point lead at the top of the World Series table, while New Zealand holds onto fifth position behind Scotland.
NZ lose final game
The All Blacks Sevens will have to settle for sixth.
They fell 17-12 to Argentina thanks to a last second try to Franco Sabato after a wild pass went astray.
New Zealand did score two good tries of their own, the first to Regan Ware off another nice piece of guile from Vilimoni Koroi, and the second a set-piece, double cut, move which saw captain Scott Curry cross. But they could not shake Argentina, and rookie Tone Ng Shiu hinted that their South American opponents may have wanted it more.
The South Africa-Fiji Cup final kicks off at 8.30pm
New Zealand 12 (Regan Ware, Scott Curry tries; Vilimoni Koroi con)
Argentina 17 (Lautaro Bazan Velez 2, Franco Sabato tries; Gaston Revol con)
HT: 7-5 Argentina
South Africa and Fiji will clash in the Wellington Cup final after contrasting semifinal victories.
It is the meeting of the sevens heavyweights. Yet Fiji had to call on all their reserves of courage and skill to stymie, 14-12, a gallant Scotland, who did not miss a first half tackle and led 12-7 at the break. The winning try went to Alivereti Veitokani.
South Africa, the form team of the tournament, ground down Canada 21-5.
New Zealand will, at 7.30pm, play Argentina for fifth place after the latter beat France 19-14.
The Cup final is set for 8.30pm.
Consolation for NZ
The All Blacks Sevens have a royal chance to seal fifth place after blanking England 24-0 in the fifth place semifinals.
The star turn was 18-year-old playmaker Vilimoni Koroi, who had a hand in all four tries with his silky skills and composure under pressure.
England, who won the Cup in Cape Town last month, looked strangely off-colour and got little going, unlike New Zealand, who bounced back well from their defeat by Fiji.
New Zealand will play the winner of Argentina v France, in progress, in their final at 7.30pm.
New Zealand 24 (Scott Curry, Regan Ware, Iopu Iopu-Aso, Sherwin Stowers tries; Vilimoni Koroi con, Isaac Te Tamaki con) England 0 HT: 12-0
Relief for Samoa
Samoa are off the mark in Wellington.
After four defeats, the Gordon Tietjens-coached side decisively outplayed Papua New Guinea 35-7 in the 13th placed semifinals.
A double to Tofatu Solia was complemented by tries to Lafaele Va'a, Tomasi Alosio and skipper Tila Mealoi to advance Samoa to the final where they will face Russia, 15-5 victors over Japan.
In the Challenge Trophy semifinals, Kenya edged USA 19-12 and Australia hit their straps with a solid 24-10 win over Wales.
The wind is still blowing in Wellington, but the sparse crowd is not swelling. Westpac Stadium looks to be well under quarter of its 37,000 capacity.
There remain nine matches today. Next up is New Zealand versus England at 4.32pm, both teams looking to salvage something from disappointing Cup quarter-final losses.
South Africa charge on
Who will stop the rampant Blitzbokke?
Unbeaten on day one, South Africa have rocketed into the Cup semifinals after a 45-0 shellacking of a hapless French outfit. They will face the tournament's surprise package Canada, who edged Argentina 17-12 in the third quarter-final.
Canada entered the Wellington Sevens as 13th seeds, yet have racked up four straight wins to be flying high. But it would rank as a massive upset were they to beat South Africa.
All Blacks Sevens coach Scott Waldrom was naturally disappointed with the loss, and some of the one on one tackling, which were costly in the 26-10 defeat to Fiji. But he didn't feel they were that far off the pace.
"We created opportunities, but didn't quite finish them. To get within five metres of the line three times and then to lose the ball was pretty tough... We've got to be better if we want to become a top team," he said
New Zealand dumped out by Fiji:
The All Blacks Sevens' three-year reign as Cup champions in Wellington is over.
Dispatched 26-10 by a hot to trot Fijian side, Scott Waldrom's charges now must realign their goals to push for fifth place and have a 4.32pm date against England to that end.
Fiji led 19-5 at the break, their bruising defence harassing New Zealand into six handling errors and some dusty passing, not to mention going too high on defence. Two tries to Joeli Lutumailagi from a long way out and from turnovers hurt New Zealand, as did Jerry Tuwai's push in the mush of Rocky Khan for his five pointer.
DJ Forbes hauled the margin back just before halftime, but New Zealand could make little headway in the second spell. Tuwai set up Jasa Veremalua for the killer blow. Tim Mikkelson's last minute try, set up by a deft Vilimoni Koroi grubber, was pure consolation.
England were tipped over 14-12 by a resurgent Scotland, who can partially thank James Fleming for a brilliant trysaving tackle on Phil Burgess for the victory. Scotland will now meet Fiji in the first of the Cup semifinals.
Fiji 26 (Joeli Lutumailagi 2, Jerry Tuwai, Jasa Veremalua tries; Osea Kolinisau 2 con, Vatemo Ravouvou con) New Zealand 10 (DJ Forbes, Tim Mikkelson tries) HT: 19-5
Fiji lead at halftime:
The stakes are high and the intensity has ramped up at the Cake Tin, but the All Blacks Sevens are facing elimination from the Cup section, trailing 19-5 at halftime to the Olympic and World Series champions Fiji.
Two Joeli Lutumailagi tries from long-range turnovers and a Jerry Tuwai solo dart rocked New Zealand after a Sione Molia break failed to reap an early try. DJ Forbes restored some hope with a late, determined score.
Drought continues for Sir Gordon
The drought continues for Sir Gordon Tietjens' new-look Samoans in Wellington, who propped up Pool C yesterday with three losses.
They have lost 17-14 to Australia in the Challenge Trophy quarter-final. After leading 14-12 at the break thanks to two well-taken tries by Alamanda Motuga, who took the direct route, and a solo chip and regather by Tila Mealoi, Samoa were not helped by losing two players to the sinbin in the second stanza. A spectacular finish by Charlie Taylor saw Australia seize the lead.
The sun and wind are out in Wellington, though not yet the crowd, which is negligible at this stage. They must be milling on the concourse, waiting for the All Blacks Sevens to run out for their juicy Cup quarter-final against Fiji, which kicks off at 1pm.
England play Scotland in the first of the Cup quarters at 12.38pm.
Waldrom hints that NZ players are 're-energised'
All Blacks Sevens assistant coach Scott Waldrom has hinted that his players have been re-energised by a new playing style that has broken the shackles of Sir Gordon Tietjens' regime.
After an unsuccessful Rio Olympic campaign, Sir Gordon stepped down from the national sevens coaching role he had held since 1994 and has since taken up the reins of the Samoan side for this week's IRB Wellington Sevens.
Scripted to perfection, New Zealand drew Samoa in their opening game of the Wellington tournament yesterday and totally dominated their former mentor's new team for a 33-7 win. After passing unbeaten through pool play, the home side now faces Olympic champions Fiji in this afternoon's quarter-finals.
But Waldrom credits a new expansive playing style for his side's early success, insisting that his senior players have found new life under the new game plan.
"It's definitely starting to come together and you can see the freedom they're starting to play with - offloading the ball, the attacks are varied, we're not doing the same thing time after time," Waldrom told Newstalk ZB's Tony Veitch.
"We're really starting to express ourselves, and our senior players are starting to step up and enjoy themselves again.
"The downfall for NZ Sevens over the last few years was that we really got stuck into this way of playing. We tried to be physical and carry side to side, and guys were feeling like they just had to carry the ball and weren't able to really play.
"We've tried to strip that away. There are still times when you need to do that, but we've tried to give them the opportunity to play and keep the ball alive and enjoy what sevens is all about."
The perception of Sir Gordon's latter years in charge was that the New Zealand game did not developed as quickly as the rest of the world, after sevens was introduced to the Olympic schedule.
While countries like Argentina, USA, Kenya, Scotland and even Japan took obvious steps forward last year, the All Blacks Sevens limited game plan was exposed at Rio, where they barely scraped through pool play with a losing record and lost to Fiji in the quarters.
One senior player to stand out yesterday was former captain DJ Forbes, who showed a new lease of live, ranging wide to provide the final passes in several scoring plays.
"DJ certainly enjoyed having a bit more freedom than he's had and you can see that in the way he's playing," said Waldrom. "He's certainly playing better than he has in the past.
"The guys are really buying into it, which certainly makes it easier for me and it's a lot easier for them to take on if they believe in what you're trying to do. They feel part of it as well.
"We're getting there, we're not perfect yet, but we've definitely made some big steps forward."
Waldrom admitted there was very little motivation needed for the showdown with Sir Gordon's Samoans yesterday.
"It was probably better to get that out of the way first up, so we could build into the rest of the games."