New Zealand’s record 10th appearance in the Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens Cup final saw them end their title drought at the 7he Sevens Stadium, the 21-5 victory over USA giving the All Blacks Sevens their first title here since 2009.
They had gone into the final with only nine fit players with captain Scott Curry among the injured quartet and came up against a USA side playing in their first Cup final in Dubai only a year after losing all five of their matches.
It took five minutes for the first try to come in a pulsating and energy-sapping final, Tone Ng Shiu powering through the clutches of Ben Pinkelman with Andrew Knewstubb adding the conversion for a 7-0 half-time score.
New Zealand lost Luke Masirewa to the sin-bin and in his absence the USA hit back, Stephen Tomasin running in the try but captain Madison Hughes’ conversion went just wide of the left upright.
There was to be no first Dubai title for USA, though, as tries by Dylan Collier and Ngarohi McGarvey-Black ensured it would be New Zealand celebrating a long-awaited sixth Dubai title.
“There wasn’t much said [before the final], said Knewstubb, who was named the HSBC Player of the Final. “You just look across at your mates there, they look at you, and you just connect on the field. Off the field as well we’re all great mates. Even the boys back home who couldn’t be here, I know they were cheering us on.”
Sione Molia added: “It was really unfortunate for us [to have so many injures] but we knew we had to get our heads down and start working coming into this final against a really good USA Team. The boys put an unreal shift out there and we’re really happy.”
ENGLAND SECURE BRONZE
England left it to the final play of the bronze final to avenge their day one loss to Australia, this time by the slenderest of margins of 15-14, and claim the medal for the third year in a row.
In their Pool D decider Australia ran out 22-19 victors and it looked like they would prevail again with the electric play of Maurice Longbottom and tries by Lachie Anderson and John Porch helping them into a 14-10 lead going into the final moments.
However, England’s prolific captain Tom Mitchell had other ideas and ran hard to the line, taking a heavy tackle for his troubles before offloading to Harry Glover who touched down to send the English fans wild in the crowd.
England had earlier faced New Zealand in one of two incredible Cup semi-finals. Ng Shiu gave New Zealand a first-half lead only for Tom Bowen to cut the deficit to two points early in the second half. The scored remained at 7-5 despite England spending two-and-a half minutes probing for the match-winner after the buzzer had sounded, but an incredible defensive effort – later recognised as the UL Mark of Excellence for the tournament – kept them out. The All Blacks Sevens put in 42 tackles in total and Scott Gregory’s final turnover was greeted by roars of delight.
Australia also went through the mill in their semi-final and felt heartbreak at the death. The 39-point thriller against the USA also went as deep into added time. It took Folau Niua’s quick-tap penalty and the might of Danny Barrett to finally catch Australia off-guard and break the 17-17 deadlock. The Australians had led 17-12 until Tomasin and then Barrett found their way over the line.
Earlier in the Cup quarter-finals, England kicked day two off with a head-turning 22-5 defeat of the defending Dubai and series champions South Africa. From the opening exchanges England dominated proceedings with captain Tom Mitchell powering over from close range for the first try. A try-saving tackle from Mike Ellery prevented the Blitzboks answering back before Mitchell’s second and a Tom Bowen try increased England’s lead to 17-0 at half-time. Phil Burgess wrapped up the win after intercepting a Rosko Specman pass, before South Africa scored a consolation try through Selvyn Davids.
The second-quarter final saw New Zealand and Scotland embroiled in a first-half arm-wrestle before the All Blacks Sevens opened up. It took five minutes before Ngarohi McGarvey-Black’s massive fend and pace broke the deadlock. Amanaki Nicole added a second and they accelerated into a 21-0 lead until Scotland’s Harvey Elms crossed late on.
Australia picked up where they left off on day one in their quarter-final with Argentina, dominating from the outset as they continued their bid for a first Cup success in Dubai. They had a firm hold on every element of the game and players opened their boxes of tricks at will. Maurice Longbottom’s weaving run set up Jesse Parahi for the first try and it set the tone for what was the come. Ben O’Donnell scored their second after a lovely show and go, before a great step from Nick Malouf stepped back inside for the third. Australia never let up and ran in five tries, O’Donnell grabbing a brace in the 38-0 win.
The remaining match saw another unpredictable outcome as the Olympic champions and 2018 series runners-up Fiji were outdone by USA. The newly-crowned World Rugby Men’s Sevens Player of the Year 2018 Perry Baker was again influential and his smooth run on the outside set the tone. Fiji hit back through Apenisa Cakaubalavu, but then couldn’t contain Baker just before half-time when he shrugged off two players on the outside. Two quick tries by Martin Iosefo and Folau Niua increased the lead to 24-7 with Cakaubalavu’s second try little consolation for Fiji.
FIJI FINISH FIFTH
South Africa and Fiji, the top two in the 2018 series, played out another classic encounter but this time with fifth place at stake. The two went blow-for-blow before Muller du Plessis’ hat-trick try, and Dewald Human’s boot, gave South Africa a sniff of a 19-14 victory. However, Waisea Nacuqu had other ideas and his breakaway try levelled the scores, only for Vilimoni Botitu to step up and miss the straightforward conversion to mean extra-time would decide the winner. South Africa’s defence intially held firm but Aminiasi Tuimaba, playing in his first tournament, confidently chipped ahead and collected his own kick to score the winning try.
South Africa’s Muller du Plessis had earlier scored the only try of a first half that saw both his side and Scotland have men sent to the sin-bin. The Blitzboks went through the gears early in the second and looked like the side that had won the last two titles in Dubai, Du Plessis grabbing a second with Werner Kok, Selvyn Davids and Rosko Specman getting their name on the scoreboard, the latter delighted the crowd with his electric footwork. South Africa leant on their trademark physicality in defence in the final minutes, Selvyn Davids halted Kyle Steyn with the line in sight and they resolutely kept Scotland out for a 29-0 win.
Fiji also showed the type of rugby that they’re known for in their semi-final. Despite missing an injured Jerry Tuwai, the team’s offloading brilliance, scorching pace and neat footwork handed them a handsome 24-7 advantage after seven minutes. Marcos Moroni led the way for Argentina with his athletic try off the first kick and his try at the start of the second half, but Fiji had too much to handle despite finishing the 31-21 win with six players after Amenoni Nasilasila was red-carded.
FRANCE WIN CHALLENGE TROPHY
Samoa will leave Dubai with the Challenge Trophy in their luggage after showing great resilience and focus in a hard-fought 33-24 defeat of France. With a 21-7 cushion after the first half, Samoa had looked fairly comfortable. However, an early second-half yellow card to Siaosi Asofolau allowed France space to play with and they made the most of it, sparking to live with tries from Stephen Parez, Jonathan Laugel and Tavite Veredamu. The problem for Jerome Daret’s men was that their opponents kept their score ticking over too and ultimately Samoa’s faster start helped them to finish on top.
In the semi-finals, Samoa were locked at 12-12 early in the second half against Spain but as the game progressed, Los Leones made their move with tries by Joan Losada and Manuel Sainz-Trapaga to lead by 10 points. It wasn’t to be though as a tired-looking Samoa rallied to score through Johnny Vaili before a well-worked restart gave Tomasi Alosio the platform to clinch the 26-22 win. France’s encounter with Canada was more straightforward, Les Bleus were clinical from start to finish and never looked like slipping up. Jean Pascal Barraque opened the scoring and finished the match with 13 points to his name. Kevin Bly, Terry Bouhraoua and Paulin Riva also touched down in the 28-12 win.tries as they marched on to the Challenge Trophy final.