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Rugby World Cup Sevens 2018: All Blacks haka after win vs England caps incredible New Zealand turnaround

Performance evokes memories of the haka in the rain at Hong Kong Stadium when New Zealand were at their dominant best

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 July, 2018, 11:44am
UPDATED : Monday, 23 July, 2018, 11:54am

It’s been over four years since New Zealand’s spine-tingling haka in the rain at the 2014 Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens and they celebrated their return to the top of the game with an equally emotional version on Monday.

The All Blacks Sevens remarkable Rugby World Cup Sevens victory in San Francisco evoked memories of them at their dominant best earlier this decade, with DJ Forbes at the wheel and the other teams making up the numbers.

They won four HSBC World Sevens Series on the trot between 2011 and 2014, with master coach Gordon Tietjens pulling the strings.

But then things started to turn stale and New Zealand slipped to third in the World Series in 2015, remaining there at the end of the 2015-16 season.

What seemed like a slow decline gained steam when the Kiwis lost to Japan in pool play and then bombed out in the quarter-finals at the Rio Olympics in 2016.

Tietjens stepped down just weeks after the Rio disaster and Forbes retired last year, ushering in a new era for New Zealand.

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Interim boss Scott Waldrom – who kept the seat warm until now-coach Clark Laidlaw took over last June – flagged wholesale changes after the Kiwis finished fifth at last year’s Hong Kong Sevens.

“There is certainly going to be some big changes between now and the start of next season around how the system looks,” Waldrom said in 2017. “He [Laidlaw] will come in and we are going to move into a centralised programme which will certainly make a big difference.

“It will see the guys living in the same area and spending more time training together rather than as individuals out in their provinces.”

The move to bring the team together has certainly paid dividends, and likely quicker than even those on the inside could have imagined.

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Victory at the Commonwealth Games in April was the beginning of the revival and their 33-12 trouncing of England in the weekend’s final was the culmination of a superb turnaround.

Yes, New Zealand are arguably the world’s most fervent rugby nation and have a seemingly endless talent pool, but something was out of kilter with the sevens programme before Laidlaw stepped in.

Just minutes after New Zealand won their third Sevens World Cup – becoming the first team to do so in the process – veteran Tim Mikkelson paid homage to the new environment created by the Scotsman.

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“Credit to the coaching staff, Clark has come in and he’s big on culture and he has really brought the boys together,” Mikkelson said.

It was a remarkable tournament for New Zealand, with the men’s and women’s teams securing back-to-back World Cups, and both after failing to win this year’s World Series.

While the women finished only two points behind Australia, New Zealand’s men were a distant third behind South Africa and Fiji after only winning a single leg.

But one would expect Laidlaw’s charges to reassert their dominance on the circuit next season in a bid to keep the momentum going until the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

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Or, on the other hand, they can keep plodding along on the series and picking off the major tournaments.

Either way, the All Blacks Sevens are back and it shouldn’t be too long before Hong Kong Stadium – or the Kai Tak Sports Park – sees another haka.