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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

NZ wins long-awaited men's and women's Hong Kong Sevens titles

NZ wins long-awaited men's and women's Hong Kong Sevens titles

New Zealand achieved the men's and women's double of Hong Kong Sevens titles on Sunday with hard-fought wins over their biggest rivals in the finals.
The men defeated Fiji 24-17 after a punishing start with the first three tries and leading 24-7 at halftime.

The women edged Australia 26-17, ensuring victory with only 21 seconds left thanks to Stacey Waaka's second try.

Fiji came to the men's final having won 40 of its last 41 games in Hong Kong since 2015, losing only the 2022 final to Australia from two scores up.

But Fiji was in a giant hole within five minutes.

New Zealand turned a Fiji knock-on at its own tryline into a try after 25 seconds for Cody Vai, making his tournament debut as an injury replacement. Akuila Rokolisoa forced an error behind a Fiji scrum for co-captain Sione Molia to score in the second minute, then Ngarohi McGarvey-Black's chip was underestimated by Fiji and Leroy Carter was first to touch the ball behind the posts. Rokolisoa's extras made it 19-0.

Fiji showed its class from a deep kickoff when Pilipo Bukayaro attacked, Waisea Nacuqu supported and Viwa Naduvolo finished the move sliding between the posts.

But after the halftime hooter, McGarvey-Black's diving touchdown as Joseva Talacolo tried pushing him over the sideline survived a video review for a 24-7 lead.

Talacolo scored the only points after halftime, but both Fiji tries weren't converted and the second wasn't until right on fulltime. New Zealand's defense was superb, including for two scoreless minutes while Amanaki Nicole was sin-binned.

New Zealand's first Hong Kong title since 2014 was its 12th overall, second only to Fiji's 19 in the tournament's history.

“The last time this team stamped their mark in Hong Kong was a long time ago,” Molia said. “We've had some pretty dreadful losses and close ones, and we're stoked to get the win.”

Australia was the last team to beat the New Zealand women, in the final of the first series event in Dubai in December. Since then, New Zealand had won 29 straight matches and four finals, including two against Australia in Cape Town and Vancouver.

The Australians started Sunday's final better when teen Bienne Terita scored a try that she started in her own 22.

But Terita was sin-binned after tackling Kelly Brazier off the ball and conceding a penalty try. With an extra woman, New Zealand regained the kickoff and Tyla Nathan-Wong crosskicked for Waaka to score.

On halftime, Australia's Teagan Levi turned over ruck ball and Charlotte Caslick scored to narrow the gap to 14-12.

Maddison Levi knocked the ball from Waaka's grasp over the tryline to prevent the first score of the new half, but then New Zealand overturned ruck ball and Michaela Blyde was on the end of quick passing to notch a converted try for 21-12.

Sariah Paki replied for Australia without the extras but Waaka finally sealed the result when she scored in the last seconds.

“I love playing Australia, they make us a better team,” New Zealand captain Sarah Hirini said. “Pretty scrappy game to be fair, lots of mistakes. Just glad Stacey finished that in the corner.”

New Zealand remained perfect in Hong Kong. An official women's team was sent to Hong Kong only twice previously, and won both times in 2000 and 2001.

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