The All Black Sevens have only competed in five of the nine tournaments because of Covid. They’d previously lost deciders in Singapore and London.
It’s the first time since 2008 the All Black Sevens have won the USA Sevens.
It was a victory built on tenacity and composure. Che Clark, Joe Webber and Rodrick Solo were all injured during the tournament while the influential Ngarohi McGarvey-Black was a late replacement for Leroy Carter. Tone Ng Shiu could barely stand close to the full time whistle in the Cup final - a typically bruising and brilliant battle between the fiercest of Sevens rivals.
Jerry Tuwai made the opening break from a lineout for Fiji to set-up Waisea Nacuqu in the second-minute. Nacuqu then went from hero to villain when he conceded a penalty try, yellow-carded for not wrapping his arm in the tackle when attempting to stop a charging Ng Shui.
The fleet-footed McGarvey-Black put New Zealand ahead with a series of steps, and a short right-handled offload that put Regan Ware clear. However, Fiji restored parity when Nacuqu returned to the field and galloped free for his second. It was 14-14 at halftime.
McGarvey-Black saved a certain try after the break with an outstanding retreat tackle and turnover. He then turned provider again with a cross-kick from one touchline to the other caught by Moses Leo who retained his feet in the presence of three Fijian defenders and supplied for Ng Shiu who limped over the line from short range.
Fiji rallied and Kaminieli Rasaku looked to have scored a try at 21-14 until a moment of madness saw Rasaku pass 20-metres infield to Jerry Tuwai who was denied a metre short by Sione Molia. Unfortunately for Molia his tackle was marginally high and so he was yellow carded and Filipe Sauturaga dotted down from the scrum overlap.
Undermanned New Zealand’s defence was resolute. A breakdown turnover was the sniff they needed to create a winning moment, and it happened when Regan Ware threw a cutout pass that missed three defenders and enabled Leo to touch down a whisker short of the dead ball line.
Kurt Baker, in his 50th tournament for the All Black Sevens, kicked all three conversions. New Zealand have won 62 World Series titles, and lead Fiji 15-14 in Cup finals.
Earlier the All Black Sevens had rallied from 7-19 down at halftime to beat Samoa 28-26 in the Cup semifinals. A last-play try by Molia, converted handy to the posts by Baker, sealed an unlikely victory. The All Black Sevens patiently worked to both sides of the field and eventually caused a split up the middle of the Samaon defence.
Samoa started with vigour and precision to lead 14-0 after four minutes. The Kiwis' cause was not helped by the dazzling Paul Scalan or yellow cards in each half to Akuila Rokolisoa (high tackle) and Lewis Ormand (tackle in the air). Rokolisoa was otherwise unblemished, scoring two tries in a performance with a bundle of flair.
In the Cup Quarter finals, New Zealand was untroubled by Ireland, skipping to a 24-0 lead before prevailing, 29-14.
Australia won the overall World Series title for the first time, guaranteeing that accolade when they beat Samoa 21-7 in the playoff for third. Fittingly Dietrich Roach, the leading points scorer in the World Series this season with 343, had the last say.
The All Black Sevens hurt South Africa on Day One with a 17-14 victory in their last group game. The scoreline was flattering to the Springboks Sevens who conceded three unanswered tries before getting on the board.
The Sevens World Cup will be held in Cape Town from September 9 to 11. The All Black Sevens are the defending champions.
Day 1 results:
All Blacks Sevens 26 (Leo, Clarke, Tangitau, Rokolisoa tries; Baker 2 conversions, Rokolisoa conversion) Canada 5 (Alex Russell try)
All Blacks Sevens 33 (Ng Shiu, Ormond, Rokolisoa, Tangitau & McGarvey-Black tries; Rokolisoa 4 conversions) USA 12 (Perry Baker try, penalty try)
All Blacks Sevens 17 (Rokolisoa, Clarke, Ormond tries; Rokolisoa conversion) South Africa 14 (James Murphy, Coenie van Wyk tries; Branco du Preez, Shaun Williams conversions)
Day 2 results:
All Blacks Sevens 29 (Webber, Tangitau, Nicole, McGarvey-Black, Ormond tries; Rokokisoa 2 conversions) Ireland 14 (Terry Kennedy, Ed Kelly tries; Mark Roche, Billy Dardis conversions)
All Blacks Sevens 28 (Rokolisoa 2, Baker, Molia tries; Rokolisoa 2 conversions, Baker 2 conversions) Samoa: 26 (Steve Onosai, Vaa Apelu Maliko, Uaina Sione, Paul Scanlan tries; Melani Matavao 3 conversions)
All Blacks Sevens 28 (Penalty try, Ware, Ng Shiu, Leo tries; Baker 3 conversions) Fiji 21 (Waisea Nacuqu 2, Filipe Sauturaga tries; Nacuqu 3 conversions)
Final World Series Standings
South Africa 124
New Zealand, 80 (Missed four tournaments)
Samoa 71 (Missed three tournaments)