New Zealand put France to sword in Wellington
TOBY ROBSON AT WESTPAC STADIUM
New Zealand are through to the quarterfinals of the Wellington Sevens after ending the opening day with a commanding 47-0 win over France.
The Kiwis will be heavy favourites to advance to the semifinals when they play Canada tomorrow, but might not take No 1 billing into the business end of a tournament that looks wide open.
Defending champions England can perhaps be most pleased with their work after topping off a solid day by handing IRB World Series leaders South Africa their first loss since the final of the Dubai tournament last November.
England will play Samoa in the first quarterfinal with Canada-New Zealand, Australia versus South Africa and Fiji against Argentina rounding out the top-eight playoffs.
New Zealand will be pleased enough after recovering from their opening 12-7 loss to Fiji to run in nine tries in a 55-0 thrashing of Spain, then a further seven tries against France.
Most of all they will be thrilled to have kept their final two pool opponents scoreless.
Tim Mikkelson and Sherwin Stowers were New Zealand's main threats on day one with five and three tries apiece and the pair got things rolling against France.
Mikkelson scored first off a marginally forward pass from Gillies Kaka, who converted for a 7-0 lead.
Stowers then shot through a huge hole to score out wide before captain DJ Forbes barged over before halftime to make it 17-0.
Forbes got his second when Mikkelson charitably handed him the final pass, Bryce Heem barged over then youngsters George Tilsley and Akira Ioane finished the job with his first try in a New Zealand sevens jersey.
Kaka knocked over four of five conversions and Cama the final two including one from the sideline for a pleasing end to the day.
Earlier, New Zealand got a reminder of how tough the Wellington tournament has become for the home side.
One indiscretion from Scott Curry and a loose pass by teenager Ioane proved the difference after rain forced some late changes to the game plan against Fiji.
New Zealand hit their straps against Spain with Stowers scorching in for a first half hattrick in what amounted to little more than a training run for Gordon Tietjens' men.
Canada had a relatively easy run against Scotland, Argentina and the United States, but New Zealand will still need to lift for the knock out stages.
England haven't set the series alight this season, but looked strong and organised today with wins over Portugal, Wales as well as South Africa.
Fiji look motivated and dangerous too with the series' leading try scorer Samisoni Viriviri ever dangerous in the wins over New Zealand, Spain and France.
And Australia may be the dark horse, determined in beating Kenya, Tonga and Samoa with a last gasp 15-12 win thanks to a drop goal penalty to Cameron Clark.
Samoa had earlier looked impressive in beating Wales 26-0 and Portugal 27-5 and appeared to have Australia's number when Alatasi Tupou scored a brilliant solo try after halftime.
One team who won't be in contention is last year's finalists Kenya after back to back losses to Samoa and Australia.
- © Fairfax NZ News