Baker stars as Sevens ABs win in Republic
It was the Kurt Baker show as New Zealand claimed their first title of the 2012/13 rugby sevens world series and opened up a clear gap between themselves and the pack with a convincing showing on the final day of the South African leg this morning (NZT).
Gordon Tietjens' men, who had suffered a 24-12 loss to Fiji in pool play yesterday, thrashed pool C winners Wales 35-5 in the quarterfinals, defended stoutly in a come-from-behind 12-5 semifinal win over South Africa, and humbled France 47-12 in the title decider at Port Elizabeth's Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.
It was New Zealand's first win of the series after finishing runners-up in the first two legs, to Fiji on Australia's Gold Coast and Samoa in Dubai.
With nearest challengers Fiji tumbling out in the quarterfinals following a 15-12 loss to Argentina, and Samoa failing to even make the last eight after losses to Australia and South Africa in pool play yesterday, New Zealand have extended their lead in the overall championship from six to 14 points.
They moved to 60 points, with France now second on 46 and Fiji third on 44. Three of the nine legs have been completed.
Tietjens said it was ''important'' to have clinched a win after falling short in the first two legs.
''We talked about it briefly, we had to win this one and we were quite clinical today,'' he said.
''The players performed magnificently today, and the younger players who came in did their bit when they had to.''
But it was one of the more experienced players, Baker, the Manawatu-born Taranaki fullback, who was the star of finals day with seven tries.
The 24-year-old scored a hat-trick as New Zealand hammered Wales in the quarterfinals - the Welsh would go on to beat Fiji 26-14 in the plate final - and got himself on the scoresheet as New Zealand overcame a 5-0 deficit at halftime to beat South Africa 12-5 in the semifinals. He scored the equalising try before Auckland rookie Ben Lam broke the deadlock with a last-minute score.
Baker then crossed for two first half tries as New Zealand jumped out to a 21-7 halftime lead over France in the final, a lead they would only build on in the second half as Tim Mikkelson and Sam Dickson also dotted down before Baker scored New Zealand's penultimate try, notching his second hat-trick of the day and his eighth try of the tournament, the most of any player.
Milford Keresoma iced the cake when he crossed in the final minute.
The world series now breaks for almost two months until the next leg, in Wellington in early February.