An emotional Jonah Lomu dedicated his three-try effort to injured captain Eric Rush as he led New Zealand to their first World Cup sevens rugby win, in Mar del Plata, Argentina, yesterday.
Lomu emerged from a quiet first two days to spur New Zealand to a 31-12 win over a much-improved Australia in the final, played at almost midnight local time.
New Zealand stormed through finals day without the inspirational Rush to beat Samoa 45-7 in the quarters then book their final place with a 31-7 win over Argentina, supported by a parochial home crowd.
Rush broke his right leg in the team's final pool game against England on Sunday and left the team yesterday morning to fly to New Zealand for surgery.
Lomu seized the final for New Zealand with two first-half tries, his first a 70m dash down the right flank in the opening minute, and the second a short run through a tackler to the line after lead-up work from Amasio Raoma Valence.
He added a third early in the second half after a sharp midfield switch of play to effectively put the game beyond doubt.
Lomu, making a rare sevens appearance with Super 12 and All Black commitments taking up his time, was moved to tears after the match.
His thoughts were with Rush and his team-mates afterwards and he typically refused to take credit for the win.
"If it wasn't for the other guys, and Rushy and all the knowledge he's given to all of us, we wouldn't have got through this final," Lomu said.
"The credit's got to go to him, he's done so much for a lot of us, and I've got a lot to be thankful for what he's done for me."
The entire day was emotion-charged for the team as they had to farewell Rush before leaving for the ground.
Rush, who turns 36 next month, was playing in his last World Cup and has been the driving force behind New Zealand sevens success throughout the 1990s.
Coach Gordon Tietjens also appeared teary eyed as he reflected on the win and the absence of the team's kingpin.
"We're pretty emotional, to win a World Cup is unbelievable really," Tietjens said.
"It was an emotional time at the hotel today when Rushy had to fly back.
"All the team were in tears and it was great to do it for him."
New Zealand claimed the early lead in the final after Lomu's long dash down the right which ended with a trademark steamrolling of the final defender.
But Australia, who upset reigning champions Fiji 22-14 in the semifinals, hit back to take the lead when prolific tryscorer Brendon Williams was awarded a try.
He appeared to bounce the ball as he crashed over in a tackle, but Argentine referee Pablo Deluca was in no doubt and the conversion made it 7-5 to Australia.
From then on it was all New Zealand, with Lomu's second try giving them the halftime advantage.
His third try from a planned move took the score to 19-7 soon after the break, then Valence nipped through a gap to cross under the posts before Malili Muliaina completed New Zealand's scoring, followed by a late Australian try.
Lomu aside, Valence played a big role in the final, while Rodney So'oialo was also prominent.
Australia were always rated one of the form teams by Tietjens, but their captain Richard Graham conceded that the Lomu-inspired New Zealanders were far too good.
"We came up against a fairly hot side tonight with a big man. He's a made a fool of a number of footballers in his time," Graham said. "We came away with no big-name players ... we had the belief that we could win it."
New Zealand thrashed Samoa 45-7 in the quarter-finals, with Valence crossing for two tries and Te Nana, Brad Fleming, Roger Randle, So'oialo and Muliaina scoring one each.
Argentina had surprised South Africa after coming from behind to win 14-12 in another quarter-final, but they were no match for New Zealand in the semis.
Fleming scored two tries and Valence kicked a conversion to give New Zealand a 12-0 lead at halftime against a tenacious Argentine side.
Then Te Nana, who took over the team captaincy from Rush, stole possession deep in the New Zealand half and set Lomu off for the line from 80m to make the game safe.
New Zealand's next task is the World Series round at Wellington's WestpacTrust Stadium in a fortnight.