Clark Laidlaw, the New Zealand coach, said their success at the Emirates Airlines Dubai Rugby Sevens was an achievement that ranks alongside winning the World Cup and Commonwealth Games last season.
The All Blacks Sevens clinched the Emirates International Trophy when they beat United States 21-5 on Pitch 1 at The Sevens on Saturday night.
Given that New Zealand won the World Cup Sevens in July, many would have had them down as strong favourites for the final, against a USA side who were making their debut in a Dubai final.
That, though, would discount the fact New Zealand’s squad was heavily denuded by injury and unavailability.
They lost four players over the course of the weekend, leaving them with just nine fit players in the squad to face a USA team that counted in its ranks Perry Baker, the two-time world sevens player of the year.
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They showed remarkable resilience to claim the title, though, with tries for Tone Ng Shiu, Dylan Collier and Ngarohi McGarvey Black in the final.
“It is right up there with the World Cup and Commonwealth Games last year,” Laidlaw, the Scottish coach of New Zealand, said.
“To lose three players before we even kicked a ball yesterday morning, then have Vilimoni Koroi meet us at the ground, then lose another three over the course of the weekend, it took guts and determination to get the win.
“It is a cliché, but we spend a lot of times on our culture and what it means to play for this team. If we get that right, the leaders show the way and the younger players follow in behind.”
Scott Curry, who started the tournament as the side’s captain, lined up for an emotional rendition of the national anthem in training kit and wearing a moon boot on his injured leg.
Sione Molia led the side in his absence, and paid tribute to the efforts of his side in battling it out for the win.
“It was good tactics from, not only our coaches, but the players as well,” Molia said.
“We chopped and changed with replacements, coming out and having a rest, and staying really composed. I’m stoked and proud of the effort of the boys.”
Mike Friday, the USA coach, is no stranger to Dubai finals, having won the title twice with England in the past.
Even though his current charges were in uncharted territory by making it to the showpiece game, the Englishman was disappointed they did not clear the final hurdle.
“I felt we gathered momentum in the day, we won a hard-fought semi-final and we were in a good place,” Friday said.
“New Zealand played some very suffocating tactics. There were some big moments in that game. It was an arm-wrestle, there was some interesting decisions, but that is life.
“That New Zealand team were fantastic in the way they went about their business.
“What I am pleased with is the growth we have seen over pre-season. This time last year we were staring down the barrel of five defeats in a row.
“Going into Olympic qualification year, we are learning as we go. I am pleased with the start, but never content. There is so much more these boys can do.”
England finished third, having opened the day with a rousing quarter-final win over South Africa, last year’s Dubai and World Series champions.
“It has been competitive all weekend, as we saw with Fiji and South Africa losing their quarter-finals,” Dan Norton, the England wing, said.
“They were the top two teams last year. Obviously sevens is on the rise now, in the lead up to the Olympics, teams are getting nicely into gear.”
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