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New Zealand capture emphatic double gold in Hong Kong

LAHORE: New Zealand cruised to victory in both the women’s and men’s finals of the Cathay/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens on a dramatic final day to increase their leads at the top of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2023 standings.

It is the second time the teams in black have achieved such a tournament double this season, having claimed dual gold in Sydney in January. For the Black Ferns Sevens, it marked the fifth consecutive cup title while for the All Blacks Sevens it was their first title in Hong Kong dating back to 2014.

Great Britain women picked up their first medal of the season by defeating Fiji in a nail-biter 22-19, while France bested Great Britain by just two points to claim their third podium finish of the season.

Stacey Waaka scored twice as New Zealand won the inaugural women’s Cathay/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens title in a six-try, 26-17 thriller against Australia.

The twin touchdowns – one in each half – took her weekend total to eight. She would have had nine, to equal Australia’s Charlotte Caslick, but for a remarkable, last-gasp try-saving effort from Maddison Levi as she dived for the line.

Michaela Blyde also touched down for the Black Ferns Sevens, as their winning run extended to 30 Series matches, while Bienne Terita and Sariah Paki scored for Australia.

It was a showpiece match that a thoroughly entertaining weekend of rugby deserved, played in front of a large Hong Kong crowd ready and willing – as always – to party.

New Zealand Black Ferns superstar Michaela Blyde said: “We had a theme of this trip, and that was we needed to bring back the legacy of what the Black Ferns Sevens started back in 2000, winning the Hong Kong Sevens when it obviously wasn’t a World Series tournament then. We wanted to do them proud and to do that tonight in front of a massive crowd in Hong Kong is very humbling and we’re very honoured.”

In the bronze medal final, Isla Norman-Bell’s dramatic full-length diving touchdown more than two minutes after the gong had sounded saw Great Britain claim their first ever sevens medal – and it’s very useful Olympic qualification points – with a 22-19 victory at the end of a thriller against Fiji.

WOMEN’S RESULTS

Cody Vai opened the scoring with just 30 seconds on the clock of the men’s cup final as the All Blacks opened with a statement of intent against Fiji in their first Hong Kong final since 2016, with Sione Molia doubling their try tally six minutes later, before Carter struck to take the score to 19-0.

Vuiviwa Naduvalu finished off a length-of-the-pitch try 60 seconds later to get Fiji on the board, but Nigardhi McGarvey-Black extended the All Blacks’ lead again to 24-7 before a breathless opening period ended.

Joseva Talacolo got Fiji’s second early in the second half and a consolation third on the final whistle as New Zealand claimed their first Hong Kong title since 2014.

All Blacks Sevens star Sione Molia said: “I’m speechless, to be honest. I’m just super proud and stoked with the efforts of our boys. They left it all out there on the field.”

In the bronze medal final, Great Britain’s men were unable to repeat the medal-winning heroics of the women’s team, as they lost an enthralling encounter against France 19-17, Stephen Parez with the decisive score at the conclusion of an end-to-end encounter.

VIEW MEN’S RESULTS

The 2023 Series is continuing to be the most competitive in history with the prize of Olympic Games Paris 2024 qualification on offer for the top four women’s and men’s teams in the 2023 Series standings. Hosts France men and women have pre-qualified for next summer’s pinnacle event in the nation’s capital, while New Zealand, USA and Australia have also secured their spots.

The stakes couldn’t be higher at the bottom end of the men’s Series this season as well. Following the penultimate event in Toulouse, the 15th ranked team will be relegated while the 12th through 14th ranked teams will face off against the Sevens Challenger Series 2023 winner for the 12th and final position on the 2024 Series.

The men’s Series has seen five different winners (Australia, Samoa, South Africa, Argentina and New Zealand) through the opening eight tournaments. New Zealand, who won tournaments in Sydney, Los Angeles and Hong Kong, currently sit atop the Series standings with 142 points, followed by Argentina (121), who won in Hamilton and Vancouver, closely trailed by Hong Kong runners-up Fiji with 113 points, Paris 2024 hosts France with 112 points and South Africa with 101 points.

The women’s Series has seen six tournaments, with New Zealand sitting firmly on top of the standings with 118 points having won the last five tournaments in Cape Town, Hamilton, Sydney, Vancouver and Hong Kong. Australia (102), the only other nation to have won a tournament in Dubai, sit 12 points ahead of USA at 90 points. Just four points separate Ireland (64), Fiji (62) and Great Britain (60) in the race for the final Paris 2024 qualification spot to be decided at the Series finale in Toulouse 12-14 May.

VIEW WOMEN’S SERIES STANDINGS

The men’s teams move straight on to Singapore for the next round of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2023 on 8-9 April at the National Stadium and the pools have been confirmed.

Pool A sees Series leaders New Zealand alongside Dubai winners South Africa, Hong Kong winners Australia and the invitational side Hong Kong China. Hong Kong runners-up Fiji have been drawn with Spain, Samoa and Canada in Pool B, while hosts France will meet USA, Uruguay and Kenya in Pool C. Great Britain, who narrowly lost in the Hong Kong bronze medal final, will meet Argentina, Ireland and Japan in Pool D.

The women’s Series now takes a short break for its finale in Toulouse, France 12-14 May to close out what has been a thrilling year, and lock in the one remaining position for Paris 2024.

Series leaders New Zealand lead Pool A alongside Canada, USA and invitational side Poland, while Australia will face off against hosts France, Ireland and Brazil. Pool C sees Hong Kong bronze medal winners Great Britain with Fiji, Spain and Japan.

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