New Zealand romped to victory in both the women’s and men’s finals of the HSBC Sydney Sevens to increase their leads at the top of the HSBC World Rugby Seven Series 2023 standings.
It is the first time the teams in black have achieved such a tournament double since Hamilton in 2020.
The Black Ferns Sevens beat France 35-0 while the men improved on that slightly with a 38-0 victory against South Africa for their first Cup title of the 2023 Series.
It was the All Black Sevens’ fourth-biggest Cup final win and helped to make this year’s tournament the highest try-scoring event in Sydney with an incredible 459 tries scored across the weekend.
With three tournaments remaining, the Black Ferns Sevens are 12 points ahead of their nearest rivals Australia, who failed to make the last four on home turf, while New Zealand’s men are now nine points clear of the Blitzboks after five rounds of action.
Despite being well beaten in the showpiece match, France’s women will take plenty of positives from Sydney having reached their first Cup final in almost five years.
Meanwhile, the ultra-consistent USA claimed their third bronze medal of the Series after edging out Ireland.
Fiji’s men returned to the podium for the first time since they finished runners-up in the opening tournament in Hong Kong after beating France in the bronze medal decider.
With unprecedented floods ravaging Auckland, Black Ferns Sevens-winning captain Sarah Hirini used her post-match interview to send her love to those affected back home before thanking the Kiwi fans inside the Allianz Stadium.
“Back-to-backs are pretty hard and to come over here and have the support we’ve had, we love you guys, thank you. We’re glad we could put on a show," she said.
HSBC Player of the Final Jorja Miller added: “We’ve been working really hard, this group, since the girls came back from 15s and I am really proud of how we grew together and progressed through the games.”
After silver medal finishes in Cape Town and Hamilton, All Blacks Sevens captain Sam Dickson was delighted that his side finally got over the line.
“I’m so proud of the boys, we’ve been trying a while now, making a few finals but just missing out,” he said.
“It was an unreal tourney for us, it’s about time we had a polished performance like that.
“Our main goal was to qualify for the Olympics and to win the World Series. This is an absolute bonus.”
HSBC Player of the Final Joe Webber added: “To hold South Africa to nil is pretty impressive. The boys have been working really hard over the last couple of months and we really deserved that one.”
MEN’S CUP FINAL
ALL BLACKS SEVENS SURGE TO FIRST TITLE
New Zealand and South Africa met for the 25th time in a Cup final but this was easily the most one-sided of the contests as the All Blacks Sevens eased to a 38-0 win.
After a couple of early errors, New Zealand didn’t look back once Roderick Solo beat two defenders and scored with his first touch of the ball.
Playing at high tempo, New Zealand continued to dictate the pace of the game and South Africa’s cause was not helped by the loss of Impi Visser to injury.
The penalty count was also swinging heavily against the Blitzboks and New Zealand ended the half with two further tries, both from scrums.
Firstly, there was no stopping Joe Webber, the HSBC Player of the Final, the 29-year-old Olympian going over with a minute of the half left to run and there was still time for captain Sam Dickson to get on the scoreboard after good work from Sione Molia and Dylan Collier.
The teams turned around with New Zealand leading 17-0 and it wasn’t long before they increased their advantage through Akuila Rokolisoa.
Rokolisoa appeared to have let South Africa off the hook when he dropped a pass he would normally take in his sleep, but the 28-year-old former electrician quickly rediscovered his spark when the next opportunity came his way, sliding over the damp Allianz Stadium pitch for New Zealand’s fourth try.
By now the Blitzboks were well and truly beaten and staring their first Cup final defeat in quite some time having won the previous eight.
Amanaki Nicole spun out of a tackle as New Zealand rubbed salt into the wounds and then Webber crowned a fine display by setting up Ngarohi McGarvey-Black with a well-placed kick ahead.
In winning 38-0, it was the first time New Zealand had kept South Africa scoreless in nine years and an emphatic way to end their search for their first title of the Series.
MILLER TURNS ON THE MAGIC
A rerun of the Tokyo Olympics final brought New Zealand and France together for the second time in Sydney and the result was even more emphatic than the 29-14 win in pool play.
The Black Ferns Sevens won their third straight title in Sydney and their 30th on the Series overall with a brilliant six-try display.
But equally pleasing to Cory Sweeney’s team will be their fourth clean sheet of the tournament.
HSBC Player of the Final Jorja Miller’s well-timed pass put Tenika Willison away for the game’s first try and it was one-way traffic thereafter with the Black Ferns Sevens proving ruthless in attack and giving no quarter in defence.
Jazmin Felix-Hotham combined with Shiray Kaka for New Zealand’s second try and then completed a quickfire double with a blistering run to the line.
With Tyla Nathan-Wong landing all three conversions, New Zealand held an almost unassailable 21-0 half-time lead.
Despite their best efforts, France couldn’t stop New Zealand from creating more opportunities, and even though Miller was stopped just short by a last-ditch tackle, she still had the presence of mind and the skill to execute a pop-up pass into the hands of Willison.
Willison’s second and Nathan-Wong’s conversion made it 28-0 and there was still time for Portia Woodman-Wickliffe to leave the French defence for dead with a typically powerful run to the line.
WOMEN’S BRONZE FINAL
MAHER CARRIES USA HOME
USA maintained their record of medalling in every tournament on the 2023 Series with a hard-fought 12-5 win over Ireland.
With four wins to Ireland’s one in the last five meetings the USA were favourites going into the match, but there were only five points in it at half-time.
Ilona Maher was brilliant on both sides of the ball, winning turnovers and making strong carries and she was involved in the build-up to the only try of the half, scored by Samantha Sullivan on the right edge.
A lost Ireland lineout on halfway led to the USA’s second try a couple of minutes after the restart. The brilliant Kristi Kirshe shrugged off several defenders in a move that she started and then finished with a burst of acceleration.
An uncharacteristic defensive mistake by Sullivan opened the door for Ireland to get back into the contest. Kathy Baker shrugged off her attempted tackle on halfway and had the legs to outrun the opposition.
Only frenetic defence from the Women’s Sevens Eagles under the shadow of their own posts prevented Ireland from having a chance to take the game into extra time.
MEN’S BRONZE FINAL
FIJIAN FLAIR AT ITS BEST
Fiji finished on the podium for the first time since the opening tournament in Hong Kong with an emphatic 29-5 win over France.
Thomas Carol had given France an early lead but the setback was only temporary as Fiji quickly got into the groove to score three tries in as many minutes.
Having been denied a try earlier in the match after the referee spotted a forward pass, Iowane Teba raced over for a quickfire double, Jerry Tuwai with an assist on both occasions.
After that Viwa Naduvalo scored straight from the kick-off and Fiji went into half-time with a 17-5 half-time advantage.
A powerful run and step from Manueli Maisamoa saw Fiji pull further ahead before Alasio Naduva rounded off the match with a try that showed Fiji at their brilliant best.
Taking France by surprise with a quickly-taken lineout, Fiji got the ball in the hands of Josevani Drava who pulled off a no-look over-the-shoulder offload to leave Naduva with an easy run in.
WOMEN’S CUP SEMI-FINALS
JASON DELIVERS FOR FRANCE
France took full advantage of the USA errors to win 20-7 and reach their first Series Cup final since Kitakyushu in 2018.
After a brilliant cover tackle from Kristi Kirshe had prevented Joanna Grisez from scoring, France were not to be denied in their second attack.
And it was no surprise that Ian Jason was the instigator, France’s number 88 has been excellent all week and her show-and-go led to Yolaine Yengo going over.
The next two tries were down to USA mistakes. Camille Grassineau capitalised on a handling error inside the USA 22 for Les Bleues’ second try before Jason claimed an overthrown lineout and found captain Carla Neisen who charged through.
Lauren Doyle’s try was reward for the effort the USA were still putting in but, fittingly, Jason had the final word with France’s fourth try.
KAKA TREBLE AS NEW ZEALAND DOMINATE
Shiray Kaka scored a hat-trick in a brilliant display as ruthless New Zealand brushed Ireland aside to win 41-0.
Stacey Fluhler set up the first try for captain Sarah Hirini before more brilliant footwork saw her step, then step again and score herself.
Trailing 10-0, Ireland finally had some ball to work with and it took some desperate defending for New Zealand to keep their line intact.
The killer blow as far as the match was concerned came just before the break when Hirini found Kaka out wide on the left and she sped away unchallenged from deep inside her own half.
Jazmin Felix-Hotham got in on the act just after half-tine and Kaka added two more in a show of force from the Series leaders.
MEN’S CUP SEMI-FINALS
BLACKOUT FOR FRANCE
New Zealand cruised into a third straight Cup final with an outstanding 36-5 win against a fatigued France.
Akuila Rokolisoa scored a hat-trick and the equally impressive Leroy Carter bagged a brace as the All Blacks Sevens extended their winning run over France to seven matches.
It only took 40 seconds for the All Blacks Sevens and Rokolisoa to score their first and France found it impossible to get into the game thereafter, with New Zealand’s counter-rucking game causing them no end of problems.
Rokolisoa added another before the break and Carter was rewarded for a lively display with a brace as the All Blacks Sevens went into half-time 26-0 up.
Having put so much energy into their quarter-final win over Australia, France looked like a spent force and it didn’t take long for Rokolisoa to complete his hat-trick.
More defensive pressure from New Zealand then led to another handling mistake from Les Bleus near their own line. Payton Spencer reacted quickly and a sudden burst of acceleration from a standing start enabled him to reach over and score.
New Zealand had kept Samoa scoreless in the quarter-final and it looked as though they would do the same to France but Thomas Carol managed to get Les Bleus on the board with a double fend taking him to the line.
DUARTTEE IS RUGBY SMART
Ricardo Duarttee might not have got on the scoreboard himself but he was at the heart of everything good about South Africa’s 31-12 win over Fiji in the second Cup semi-final.
The irrepressible 24-year-old came up with a hat-trick of assists as the Blitzboks opened up a 17-0 half-time lead.
Shilton van Wyk hit a great line to take Duarttee’s pass at pace and race under the posts for the first try before Dalvon Blood got on the end of another move and squeezed over in the corner for a brilliant finish.
Duarttee’s quick tap-and-go then led to the Blitzboks' third, scored by pocket rocket Jaiden Baron.
Fiji found a response through Iowane Teba from a centre-field scrum move a couple of minutes into the second half and the try clearly lifted Fiji’s energy levels.
However, a forced pass on halfway went to ground and Darren Adonis hacked it on and won the foot race to thwart any thoughts of a comeback.
Van Wyk completed the scoring when he intercepted a pass in Fiji’s 22 for an easy second.
WOMEN'S PLACINGS ROUND-UP
After the disappointment of their Cup quarter-final exit, defending Series champions Australia bounced back to take fifth place with a 36-12 win over Fiji.
Fiji were Australia’s equals in the first half and the scores were tied at 12-12 at the break.
However, there was only one team in it in the second half, Australia scoring four unanswered tries.
Maddison Levi took her tally for the season to 32 with the game’s first try and she was joined on the scoresheet by the classy Charlotte Caslick, who got a double to become Australia's all-time leading try-scorer in Series history, and Faith Nathan, Teagan Levi and Lily Dick.
Younis Bese and Ivamere Nabura got Fiji’s tries.
Great Britain took seventh place with a 21-5 win over Japan, Canada battled past Brazil 24-21 for ninth and Spain finished 11th following a 29-0 win over Papua New Guinea.
MEN'S PLACINGS ROUND-UP
Samoa finished in fifth after a 24-12 win over Ireland.
Ireland lost Ed Kelly to an early yellow card and were always up against it against a physical Samoan side.
First-half tries from Tuna Tuitama and Taunuu Niulevaea helped Samoa, the Cape Town champions, into a 12-0 half-time lead.
Australian-born Liam McNamara hit back for Ireland at the start of the second half and Andrew Smith added another after collecting a kick ahead.
With Mark Roche adding the conversion, Ireland were back on level terms with three minutes to play to the delight of their large contingent of supporters.
The response from Samoa was immediate, though, with Niulevaea and Tuitama sealing a hard-won victory win with their second tries.
Invitational team Tonga went into the ninth-place decider on the back of three straight wins and it looked as though they would add a fourth against Argentina.
Tries from Tevita Manukea, John Tapueluelu and Samson Fualalo put Tonga in front in a topsy-turvy contest but with only five seconds to go, Rodrigo Isgro added to Marcos Moneta’s earlier double to draw Los Pumas Sevens level. Joaquin Pellandini knocked over the match-winning conversion.
In the 13th place decider, Guillermo Lijtenstein produced one of the moments of the weekend when, in upholding the traditions of the best Uruguayan number nines, he headed the ball forward and then kicked it down the touchline before passing inside for Valentin Grille to put the seal on a 26-5 win against Spain.