Three late tries, one after the final hooter saw New Zealand fight back to beat South Africa 24-21 in the final of the Wellington Sevens, the third leg of the World Sevens Series on Sunday.
It was New Zealand’s first win on the 2015-16 circuit and saw them move up to third on the table behind South Africa and Fiji as interest in sevens heightens ahead of its Olympic debut this year.
Captain Tim Mikkelson attributed the determination not to give up when down by 14 points in the second half to a pep talk from 15s World Cup-winning All Black Liam Messam.
“We talked all week that we needed a lot of heart, a lot of ticker. Liam Messam talked about putting the mana (pride) back in the jersey after the last couple of tournaments and that’s what we wanted to do,” Mikkelson said.
“We put ourselves under pressure but we knew if we could get the ball in hand and keep it we could win.”
South Africa, who went into the Wellington round as co-series leaders with Fiji dominated for most of the final and were up 21-7 early in the second half.
Captain Philip Snyman and Rosko Specman both scored in the first half with Akira Ioane replying for New Zealand.
Ioane also pulled off a try-saving tackle when Specman was bundled out in the corner on the stroke of half-time as South Africa turned with a 14-7 lead.
They moved further ahead when Seabelo Senatla pounced on a misdirected off-load by Sonny Bill Williams early in the second spell with Cheslin Kolbe adding his third conversion.
But after Specman was yellow-carded, New Zealand moved up a gear.
Reiko Ioane scored twice in quick succession before Joe Webber capped off a length of the field move to score the winning try.
New Zealand were not tested through the knockout rounds, beating Kenya 36-0 and then England 25-5.
South Africa, after a 26-14 win over Australia in the quarter-finals, beat Fiji in a bruising semi-final 31-0 with two Fijian players, Semi Kunatani and Vatemo Ravouvou, yellow carded in the second half.
Fiji regained their composure to beat England 24-12 in the play-off for third.
After three of the 10 legs, South Africa have 54 points followed by Fiji (52), New Zealand (47), and England (41). – Agence France-Presse