New Zealand pull off amazing comeback win in Wellington Sevens final
Gordon Tietjens had all-but given up on the 2016 Wellington Sevens title.
Two bad Sonny Bill Williams errors gave South Africa a 21-7 lead halfway through the second half of Sunday's tournament final at Westpac Stadium.
The Blitzboks were showing New Zealand how good teams rise to the challenge of a final, as a miserable defeat loomed for the home side.
But Tietjens hasn't spent 22 years as head coach of this team for nothing. He knows games can be won in miraculous circumstances, as Joe Webber proved again when his try after the final siren saw New Zealand clinch an unlikely 24-21 victory and a third-straight Wellington title.
"I've always said that if you've got a good bench and they can provide impact and those players have got X-factors, whatever that might be, and they get out and display those X- factors they you come away with good results," Tietjens said.
"To do it right at the death was certainly fantastic and great for the team because they're very, very close. They've only been together a short time but it was certainly worthwhile winning our tournament."
People often focus on attack but Tietjens believes "defence wins your tournaments" and it was a massive Augustine Pulu tackle that got New Zealand going in the final.
"That one big tackle going back, when it looked like South Africa were scoring to basically give them the game, was the turning point," said Tietjens.
"To force a scrum and then to score from that scrum after the hooter, that's what rugby's all about."
Tietjens now has to pick a team to play next weekend's tournament in Sydney. Sam Dickson, due a leg injury, seems unlikely to be in the 14 that go.
While, on a broader note, the performance of this squad in Wellington indicates that picking New Zealand's Olympic team later in the year won't be too easy. Far from lacking talent, Tietjens is going to leave some decent players behind.
This New Zealand side made a poor start to Sunday's final. Williams dropped the kickoff and within three minutes Philip Snyman had scored to put South Africa 7-0 up, following Cheslin Kolbe's conversion.
Rosko Specman soon made it 12-0, when he squirmed his way over from a five-metres scrum. Kolbe then kicked South Africa out to 14-0.
New Zealand simply couldn't get hold of the ball but suddenly got themselves back into the game when Joe Webber's long pass hit Akira Ioane in stride and he scored. Kurt Baker's conversion made it 14-7 with 30 seconds to go until halftime.
South African fans might feel Webber's pass was forward, but attention soon turned toward whether Ioane had stopped Specman scoring his second try. The South African got up confident but replays revealed Ioane had bundled him into touch before the ball was forced over New Zealand's tryline.
A try at that point might've ended the contest, so Ioane's desperation meant the home side were still in it as the whistle finally blew for halftime.
But, as he had done the previous night, Williams threw a regrettable pass on his own 22 and South Africa regathered to score. This time it was Seabelo Senatla who made sure the lead pushed out to 21-7.
South Africa continued to dominate possession and appeared as if they would be worthy tournament winners.
Two Rieko Ioane tries gave New Zealand the sniff of a comeback, particularly with Specman in the sinbin for a professional foul. But the home side were just so courageous and Webber finally sealed an amazing 24-21 win well after the final hooter had sounded.
- Dominion Post