New Zealand stun Blitzboks

Joe Webber scored in the final play of the game as New Zealand snatched a 24-21 victory over the Blitzboks in the Wellington Sevens Cup final on Sunday. CRAIG LEWIS reports.

South Africa looked to have the result secured when they held a 21-7 lead with less than four minutes to play, but three late tries from New Zealand saw them clinch a second last-gasp win over the Blitzboks in as many days.

Fiji, South Africa and New Zealand have now all won a tournament after the first three legs of the World Rugby Sevens Series, and there will be everything to play for in next weekend’s Sydney tournament. The Blitzboks can take some solace after Sunday’s agonising defeat as they still sit at the top of the standings, albeit hanging onto a tenuous two-point lead.

Understandably, that will really be scant consolation when they look back on Sunday’s final, which saw them control proceedings for the majority of the match, with a try to Seabelo Senatla early in the second half enabling them to take a commanding 14-point lead.

However, it all went horribly wrong from there on for the Blitzboks when Rosko Specman, who had just completed a try-saving tackle, then committed a professional foul that saw him being yellow-carded. Straight after New Zealand scored through Rieko Ioane.

South Africa held onto a nine-point lead as the conversion went wide, but with just over a minute to play, Ioane went over for his second try and suddenly it was just a two-point ball game.

The Blitzboks were then on the receiving end of another dubious refereeing decision as Senatla was ruled to have knocked the ball on with effectively the final play of normal time, and after recycling possession on a number of occasions, the hosts set up the match-winning try.

Webber dived over in the corner to break South African hearts for the second time, with the Kiwis having also clinched a comeback victory over the Blitzboks in the final game on day one.

Undoubtedly looking for a bit of payback, the Blitzboks made an ideal start to the final as Juan de Jongh carried the ball strongly to the tryline before slipping the ball to Philip Snyman, who darted over for the first try.

Midway through the first half and Specman, who had been outstanding all tournament, once again displayed silky foot work to ghost over for a try that took the Blitzboks into an early 14-0 lead.

New Zealand struck back before the break, though, with elusive Akira Ioane repeating his feat from day one against South Africa as he went over for a crucial score, while in another big moment on the stroke of half-time, Specman was bundled into touch just before dotting down in the corner.

Some 10 minutes later and New Zealand pulled off what was quite rightly described as the ‘great escape’.

Photo: Mark Tantrum/Getty Images

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Craig Lewis