'This victory is for Christchurch'
They were doing the twist in the VIP box and dancing in the stands, but New Zealand rocked where it mattered - on the pitch - as they outclassed England 29-17 to win the Cathay Pacific/Credit Suisse Hong Kong Sevens yesterday.
The uplifting music, which had the full house at Hong Kong Stadium bopping all weekend, stopped for a minute before the Cup final to remember the victims of the earthquakes in Christchurch and Japan. But when the action began, New Zealand called the tune, scoring five tries to three in a comfortable victory.
It gave New Zealand a 10th Hong Kong Sevens title, a winners' purse of US$100,000, and 30 invaluable points to their IRB Sevens World Series tally, which earns them outright top spot, five points ahead of England with three tournaments to play.
Although missing captain DJ Forbes, who sat out the last day with a hamstring injury, New Zealand were running on raw emotion as they kept their pre-tournament promise to win for Christchurch. 'We were playing for Christchurch,' said New Zealand coach Gordon Tietjens, who thanked the organisers for having a minute's silence before kick-off. 'The guys showed a lot of heart. It was the best I have seen them play all season.'
Solomon King set the ball rolling when he beat England flier Ollie Lindsay-Hague in a 50-metre run down the right touchline to give the Kiwis first blood. Powerhouse hooker Greg Barden was held up over the line, but with the majority of the 40,000 crowd urging them on, England were not denied from the ensuing scrum and Mat Turner touched down to level the score at 5-5.
Tietjens' gamble to start with winger Frank Halai instead of Declan O'Donnell proved correct when he scored either side of the break to give New Zealand a 17-5 lead. This was extended by the visionary Tomasi Cama, who stole down the blindside, sold the defence a lovely dummy before nonchalantly touching down.
Trailing 22-5, Barden lifted English hopes when he scored to make it 22-12. However, from the re-start, the outstanding Tim Mikkelson sealed an emotional victory when he found himself in the clear to run down the left touchline to make it 29-12.
Tietjens was dancing in the dugout, and even though Dan Norton struck a consolation blow, the party was about to begin. 'Our gutsy defence won the day,' Tietjens said. 'I thought we would struggle with pace of their backs but our guys defended very well. Sevens is all about family and we're here playing for each other, and that's what my guys did.'
Crushed England coach Ben Ryan conceded the floor to New Zealand, but said all was not lost in his bid to win a first IRB World Series title.
'I'm absolutely disappointed. No one wants to lose in a final but on the day New Zealand were better than us,' said Ryan. 'They took their chances, while we couldn't quite capitalise on ours. When we got into the red zone, they turned us over and went the length. It was killer blows.'
'But they are not too far ahead, not with two tournaments back in the UK. They struck a blow today, but by no means is it over for us,' Ryan said .
Tietjens agreed. 'Yes, this gives extra points, but we only move five ahead of England, and it is certainly not over. We have to back this victory up with a good performance in Adelaide which we still haven't won.'
New Zealand had earlier brushed aside Portugal 33-5 in the quarter-finals to set up a semi-final clash with Fiji, who scraped home 24-19 over South Africa in the quarter-finals.
In the bottom half, England had to ward off a pesky challenge from Russia, emerging 10-7 winners to book a semi-final against Samoa who couldn't quite conjure up the same magic they showed in winning the title last year. Missing injured skipper Lolo Lui, Samoa had an equally tough time in seeing off Australia, 15-12.
In the VIP stands, Hong Kong Rugby Football Union bosses Brian Stevenson and Trevor Gregory were doing the twist with Cathay Pacific head honcho Tony Tyler and Timothy Fok Tsun-ting, Hong Kong Olympic Committee chief.
In the packed stands, they were shaking and swaying, as Hong Kong welcomed for the first time a master-mixer of music. And on the pitch, the men in black danced to victory. They then joined hands, gathered in a circle and prayed, remembering their countrymen who died last month in Christchurch.