New Zealand regain series title, but South Africa and Australia steal show in exhilarating final

NEW Zealand returned to the summit of the World Sevens Series after a three-year absence, having won four of the eight series events, but they were forced to take a back seat to their southern hemisphere rivals who produced an exhilarating finale to 2010-11 at Murrayfield, in which South Africa eventually prevailed.

After storming through their pool on Saturday, the Kiwis comfortably defeated England 26-12 to reach the semi-finals, but they were caught cold by Australia at that stage and succumbed 19-12. South Africa emerged from the other side of the draw with wins over Samoa and surprise semi-finalists Wales, coming back from two scores down against the Welshmen to seal their meeting with the Aussies.

New Zealand coach Gordon Tietjens said: "It's wonderful to lift the world series trophy again and this tournament has just shown how competitive world sevens is and how difficult it is to win a tournament. We have won four this season and always reached at least the semi-finals and so while the guys are a bit disappointed not to win today, they have proven themselves to be the most consistent team in the world.

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"But when we started out with this world series it was always New Zealand or Fiji, then Australia emerged, fell away, and came back, and South Africa started coming through and Samoa picked up again, so now we've had four different series winners.

"The game of sevens is going global. We have seen that this season with 40,000 at our event in New Zealand, 50,000 at Hong Kong, 54,000 at London and Murrayfield back on the up, so it's only going to get more competitive."

Played in front of an eager 14,000 crowd, the final proved a gripping end-to-end affair, as good a finale as could have been scripted. Australia led at half-time 21-7 through two tries from skipper Bernard Foley and one by Jonathan Lance to one from Steven Hunt, and streaked to 28-7 up when Foley made a clean break from the restart to put Henry Vanderglas.

Two rapid tries from Frankie Horne and Bernardo Botha brought South Africa back into it, but when Ed Jenkins responded for Australia it seemed to be over. Far from it. Hunt hit back for South Africa with two more tries, and Cecil Afrika's conversion closed the gap to 35-31, with just ten seconds to go. An almighty scrap ensued for the ball from the next restart as the hooter sounded, and it eventually came back to the South Africans. With both sides shattered, Sithole had just enough gas to get round the Aussie defence on the right touchline and he celebrated with a swan-dive into the dead-ball area.

The Murrayfield tournament had everything from the obligatory streaker to plenty of crowd involvement, and the pace, physicality and lung-bursting energy of the players was at its most inspiring when the three big guns emerged in the latter stages.Wales had squeezed in among them and threatened a surprise with two early tries in their semi-final with South Africa, but they could not hold on for a first-ever victory against the southern hemisphere side.

It underlined the quality from the south and just how much more work our friends in the north have ahead if they are to compete at this level.