Of all the tries scored New Zealand’s seventh Wellington sevens title will be remembered for the stinginess of their defence.
Gordon Tietjens’ side ripped the IRB World Series lead from South Africa’s grasp with a 21-0 win during a final that said as much about their pride as it did their skill.
After five successive losses to South Africa dating back to 2012, captain DJ Forbes and his men had clearly had enough.
Big forward Bryce Heem was the unsung hero of the final providing the off load for Tim Mikkelson’s opening try and laying on Sherwin Stowers’ second try before halftime.
At 21-0 it was New Zealand’s title to lose.
South Africa, like Canada in the quarterfinal and England in the semifinals, must have been wondering if it was even possible to score a point against this Kiwi team.
New Zealand scored more tries than any other side at the tournament, with Stowers grabbing eight in total, but it was their tackling which stood head and shoulders above their rivals.
The home side’s for and against since losing to Fiji in their opening pool match on Friday read 157-0 leading into the final after they blanked Canada 24-0, then defending champions England 31-0 to reach their ninth Wellington final.
By the time teenager Akira Ioane bundled Jamba Ulengo out in the corner in the dying stages of the final New Zealand had posted 178 points and 0 against. It will stand as sevens version of The Great Wall.
The crowd had partied hard all weekend, but they acknowledged the feat with a “D-Fence” chant echoing out of the hoarde of superheroes and fairy book characters in the stands.
Once again Tietjens was the master of tactics on a wet night.
New Zealand cleverly kicked and chased through the knock out stages in order to take the wet weather out of play and continued to do so early in the final.
Heem, as he had all tournament, provided a half break. He created the first try, turning the ball inside to Tim Mikkelson who raced 60 metres to score under the posts.
The crowd went wild when Stowers stepped through for the second try and a 14-0 lead and into raptures when he grabbed his second.
Tietjens also correctly backed Gillies Kaka to run the show at playmaker ahead of Tomasi Cama. Kaka responded with a coming of age performance.
Heem, Scott Curry and Forbes were all superb work horses, while Ben Lam got better with every outing and New Zealand’s bench played a vital role including Ioane, whose future looks as big as the fend on the end of his lanky arms.
Ioane eased his way into the international arena in pleasing fashion. He scored a late try on day one, and then tasted big time sevens against Canada, before scoring the final try against England in a semifinal played in front of 30,000-plus.
He may be a trump card by the time he has played out the remaining four rounds of the World Series in Tokyo, Hong Kong, Scotland and England and on to the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
High energy youngsters Ambrose Curtis and George Tilsley also added plenty throughout.
The win means New Zealand lead the series after relinquishing their lead to South Africa in Las Vegas when they lost a second successive final to the Blitzbokke.
South Africa were playing in their fourth straight final and going for their third straight tournament victory in the current series, but couldn’t unlock New Zealand’s defence.
South Africa had earlier advanced to the final with a 10-0 semifinal win over Fiji, a scoreless second half symptomatic of the wet conditions.
Fiji gained some consolation with a 14-7 win over England in the playoff for third.
Final: New Zealand 21 (Sherwin Stowers 2, Bryce Heem tries, Gillies Kaka 3 cons) South Africa 0. HT: 21-0.
Semifinal: New Zealand 31 (Sherwin Stowers, Scott Curry, Ben Lam, Bryce Heem, Akira Ioane tries, Kaka 3 cons) England 0. HT: 19-0.
Quarterfinal:New Zealand 24 (Scott Curry 2, Gillies Kaka, George Tilsley tries, Kaka con, Tomasi Cama con) Canada 0. HT:12-0.
Fairfax NZ News