World champion sevens teams touchdown

LIAM NAPIER
Last updated 15:55 03/07/2013
Fairfax NZ

New Zealand's world champion men's and women's sevens teams have touched down in Auckland.

DJ Forbes
PETER MEECHAM/Fairfax NZ
WORLD CHAMPIONS: DJ Forbes (left) Huriana Manuel with the two World Cup trophies.

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Just as they did on the pitch, New Zealand sevens captains Huriana Manuel and DJ Forbes led their teams out to a moving haka welcome at Auckland Airport today.   

Both teams claimed a world title at the Sevens World Cup in Moscow, in what was a memorable double for New Zealand rugby. 

It's difficult to put into perspective the magnitude of this success. For the men, in particular, claiming the World Cup for the first time in 12 years was immensely satisfying, comparable to a Commonwealth Game gold medal.  

"Being back on home soil is the pleasing part but to be welcomed like that, it's something to remember," Forbes said, a gold medal resting on his chest.

"We're now the World Cup champions for the next six years," men's coach Sir Gordon Tietjens said. "That can't be taken away from you. That's what makes it special." 

Reflection takes time. It may be days, weeks, months or years before individuals, such as player of the year Tim Mikkelson or player of the tournament Gillies Kaka, and the team realise what they have achieved. 

New Zealand has long leading the sevens nation but, until now, the World Cup was one event they had not mastered.

"Some of us senior boys were talking about it feeling just like another tournament win," Forbes said.

"Ten or 20 years from now when people talk about the year we won it, it might sink in then. 

"We definitely know how special it was and what it means to the country but at this moment it's pretty surreal. 

"All these pinnacle events come down to on the day. There's been a lot of talk about us being consistently the best but it's different in these one off tournaments. Now we've proved it. 

"We felt the brunt of the bad memories for the last four years so to come back and do it, it was really special." 

For the entire tournament the 90,000-seat stadium appeared almost empty - a sacrifice for attempting to spread the global game - though the International Rugby Board suggested around 20,000 attended each of the three days.

The underwhelming turnouts did little to dampen spirits, however.

"For us, when you put on the black jersey, if a man and a dog were there we would get up," Forbes said. 

"It wasn't about the occasion or being in Russia. We wanted to win the World Cup. That was our job. Regardless of the environment, or any situation we were faced with, we were ready to play."

Tietjens wasn't about to be critical of the tournament either, though he did suggest the next World Cup may be in a more regular sevens destination.

"It wouldn't surprise me if it goes back to somewhere like Hong Kong or Dubai," he said. "Russia, while they mightn't have got the crowds, they did a great job in terms of facilities."

Even after routing England 33-0 in the final Tietjens would not loosen his stern grasp on standards. Winning the World Cup evokes images of wild celebrations. Instead, most of the team settled for fast food. 

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"We tried to look for the first McDonalds we could find in Russia and a couple of the boys had a few beers but Tietjens is pretty strict, nothing has changed," Forbes said.

"I'm sure [Eric] Rush and [Jonah] Lomu can vouch for it, there's not too much partying." 

It will be quickly back to a "real job" for many of the women. Cantabrian Alexis Tapsell is a prime example. She has her first day at accounting firm Deloitte on Monday.

"I hope not," she said of a welcoming party.   

- Fairfax Media

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