NZ defeat England to win Hong Kong Sevens
New Zealand claimed the Hong Kong rugby sevens title and with it the outright lead in the world series after beating England 29-17 in the final this morning (NZT).
Frank Halai, who was hampered by an ankle injury throughout the tournament, ignored the pain to score two tries as New Zealand ran in five tries to three to claim the 30 points on offer for winning the Hong Kong title.
They now have 110 points in the world series, five points ahead of England.
Coach Gordon Tietjens said the team had used the Christchurch earthquake as motivation at the tournament.
"It was certainly in the back of our minds. They've gone through some really tough times so it is great that whatever we've done here tonight might brighten things in Christchurch," he said.
Stand-in skipper Lote Raikabula paid tribute to the efforts of his young players, especially after captain DJ Forbes was ruled out of the final with a hamstring injury.
"I'm so, so proud of our young boys, especially after losing DJ. There was so much to play for so this is for the people back home, for Christchurch," he said.
England coach Ben Ryan said they thought they had the measure of New Zealand but the final came down to crucial turnovers.
"New Zealand were better than us. They turned us over on some really key moments and made the most of it."
Forbes' replacement in the starting lineup, Solomon King opened the scoring after quick thinking from Tim Mikkelson put him into space out wide.
Mikkelson was back in the action soon after to make a try-saving tackle on Greg Barden to hold him up over the line but from the ensuing scrum Mat Turner evaded Bryce Heem to score in the corner.
With the greasy surface posing problems with players' footing, New Zealand playmaker Tomasi Cama broke out from deep in their own territory to release Halai, who started the final in place of Declan O'Donnell, to cross under the posts and give Tietjens' side a 12-5 lead at the break.
After England's Dan Norton threatened to score shortly after the restart, Halai struck back to run almost the length of the field to open up a 12-point lead.
More Cama brilliance exposed England on the blindside and the Manawatu representative scored to further extend the lead before Barden narrowed the deficit.
But any thoughts of a stirring comeback were scotched by the impressive Mikkelson who burst through to ensure New Zealand would claim the title. A late Norton try was mere consolation for England who will look to turn the tables on New Zealand in Adelaide this weekend.
Earlier, New Zealand withstood a spirited comeback from Fiji to win their semifinal 19-14 and advance to the final against series co-leaders England.
The Gordon Tietjens-coached side led 19-0 early in the second half but then had to deny a gallant Fiji side who scored two converted tries to threaten a dramatic revival.
England, who share the series lead with New Zealand on 80 points, battled past Samoa 19-14 in the other semifinal.
With captain DJ Forbes sitting on the bench, New Zealand dominated the opening half against Fiji in light rain which made handling, and footing, difficult.
New Zealand went close through Declan O'Donnell and Bryce Heem before stand-in skipper Lote Raikabula put the first points on the board after Solomon King's strong burst.
Fiji struggled to get out of their own territory but when they did late in the half they turned the ball over and Tomasi Cama turned defence into attack and Heem led three defenders a merry dance before releasing Tim Mikkelson to stroll in under the posts for New Zealand to take a 14-0 lead into the break.
Mikkelson repeated the dose after the break to swoop on a loose ball after another strong King surge to extend the lead further.
But Fiji, who had looked lethargic after a taxing extra-time win over South Africa to reach the semifinals, then managed to retain possession to burst into life.
Replacement David Batiratu crossed and then when Dale Tonawai went over with two minutes left the game was in the balance.
But a mistake from the kickoff handed possession back to New Zealand and they almost added to their lead through substitute Frank Halai before a late Fiji attack was snuffed out.
They had earlier put a lacklustre second day behind them to beat Portugal 33-5 in their quarterfinal.
Final: New Zealand 29 (Frank Halai 2, Solomon King, Tomasi Cama, Tim Mikkelson tries; Cama con, Buxton Popoalii con) England 17 (Mat Turner, Dan Norton, Greg Barden tries; Ben Gollings con). HT: 12-5.
Semifinal: New Zealand 19 (Tim Mikkelson 2, Lote Raikabula tries; Tomasi Cama 2 con) Fiji 14 (David Batiratu, Dale Tonawai tries, Ilai Tinai 2 con). HT: 14-0.
Quartefinal: New Zealand 33 (Toby Arnold 2, Bryce Heem, Scott Curry, Lote Raikabula tries; Tomasi Cama 3 con, Buxton Popoalii con) Portugal 5 (David Mateus try). HT: 14-5