PHILADELPHIA, PA – The All Blacks 7s winning in Wellington? Haven’t we heard this one before? There was plenty of drama in this latest version of “All Blacks Triumph on Home Turf.” In the final, South Africa out played them for the first 15 minutes of the 20 minute match – South Africa were up 14 with 4 minutes to play.
The match opened with a Sonny Bill Williams knock on from the opening kick, and it was South Africa, through Phillip Snyman, who deserved and scored the first try. Rosco Speckman scored next after South Africa won a free kick from a 5 meter scrum. Then it was the All Blacks’ turn to strike. Joe Webber threw a monstrous and gorgeous pass to put Akira Ioane – who looks physically uncomfortable unless he is running over people – into enough space to score. Then, Akira Ioane prevented a try by tracking down Speckman and putting him into touch just before he put the ball down for a would-be try. 14-7 to South Africa at the half.
In the second half, a Williams offload that went astray led to another try for South Africa. After Gillies Kaka made a break, an infringement by Speckman earned him a yellow card. With the man advantage, New Zealand immediately created an overlap and Rieko Ioane scored a simple-looking try. From there, New Zealand kept the pressure on. South Africa made things difficult at the breakdown, by the All Blacks managed to keep the ball and Rieko Ioane scored another try. South Africa made a break with only seconds left, but Regan Ware put a big hit on Seabelo Senatla causing a knock on. The last passage of play started with a New Zealand scrum and ended with a game-winning try by Webber.
Even while it was clear that the All Blacks in Dubai and Cape Town were hindered by a cruel injury wave, the performance this weekend was a firm statement that the All Blacks aren’t really slipping anywhere. They went unbeaten over the two days. During the final, coach Gordon Tietjens had the right players on the pitch at the right time.
One moment that captures the All Blacks’ Wellington performance came against Scotland in pool play. Gillies Kaka, arriving a bit late to a breakdown, didn’t quite have time for a conventional scrum half pass. So he went for a kick pass.
Standard stuff, really. No big deal. Just absurd skill pulled off with total nonchalance, leading to a try.
South Africa reached the finals, in part, because Speckman and Senatla were too fast and too clinical for Fiji. Prior to the Semi-Finals, Fiji had looked strong. The Fijians were able to bounce back and beat England to finish third, which seems just. England were patient, composed and physical in Wellington, and Dan Bibby added a few moments of magic.
The biggest upset on Day 1 was Samoa beating England, but England had already won the pool.
While France ended the tournament with a wins against Portugal and then Russia, only getting 1 win in pool play and then being defeated by Japan in the Bowl Quarterfinals is a big drop from their performance in Cape Town. Another side that has to be disappointed is the USA. Many, me included, have adjusted the expectations upward for the Eagles. They made the Cup Quarterfinals, but were then handled by Fiji and Australia.
Cup: New Zealand
Results for every match are here. With these results, here are the Top 10 heading into Sydney:
Pool A: New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Portugal
Pool B: South Africa, Kenya, Scotland, Russia
Pool C: Fiji, Argentina, Samoa, France
Pool D: England, USA, Japan, Wales
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