In an ironic quirk, the All Blacks Sevens finished fifth in the Vancouver leg of the World Series, despite losing two less games than in Las Vegas, where they placed fourth.
New Zealand won five and lost just once in Vancouver on the artificial turf, where they were the defending Cup champions. But that loss was a costly one, 14-12 to England in the quarter-finals, where they were strangely lacklustre and again profligate with possession.
They may have even finished as low as sixth were it not for a brilliant chip and regather try by replacement Vilimoni Koroi in the dying throes of the fifth place playoff against Argentina.
New Zealand started well against the South Americans, racing to a 12-0 lead via tries to Beaudein Waaka and Isaac Te Tamaki before Argentina mounted a serious comeback. At 14-12 down, time almost up and deep in their half, New Zealand looked forlorn, but Koroi sparked up with an instinctive play, which he had shown several times in Vancouver, a chip and regather.
"It's a tough one to assess. We only lost one game all tournament, which I think is the first time that's happened for us. To see us lose to England, and then see them in the Cup final was tough, but we didn't play South Africa, Fiji or the USA, so it's hard to judge (where we are at)," says New Zealand coach Scott Waldrom.
"I think we're still working on our combinations. We need the excitement these young guys bring. We are slowly getting to the point where anyone can be on the field and nothing changes."
Tim Mikkelson was scratched from this event due to the flu, so he will come back into the mix, but once again several players showed their class and determination at various stages. Among them were captain Scott Curry, who bounced back strongly from concussion, DJ Forbes, who scored a solo try against England, Isaac Te Tamaki and Ambrose Curtis showed their pace, while playmakers Koroi and Beaudein Waaka showed their wares and kicking skills. However, errors again stymied New Zealand. There were four kickoff mistakes in Vancouver. One kickoff out on the full is unacceptable.
New Zealand's loss to England was, however, put in some perspective when the second placed team on the circuit crushed Fiji in a 40-7 semifinal upset before undoing series leaders South Africa 19-7 in the Cup final, their second title of 2016-17 after their triumph in Cape Town.
The series breaks for three weeks before resuming in Hong Kong for the April 7-9 seventh leg. New Zealand, who trail third-placed Fiji by 16 points, are essentially seeking to finish deep enough in the final four tournaments to reach the podium. But they are too far back to mount a tilt at the title they lost won in 2013-14.
New Zealand 21 (Scott Curry, Beaudein Waaka, Andrew Knewstubb tries; Waaka 3 con) Australia 0 HT: 7-0
New Zealand 17 (Beaudein Waaka, Isaac Te Tamaki, Vilimoni Koroi tries; Waaka con) Argentina 14 (Bautista Delguy, Fernando Luna tries; Javier Rojas 2 con) HT: 12-0