Picture & Text: World Rugby
New Zealand increased their lead at the top of the HSBC World Rugby Women's Sevens Series standings to 10 points after an enthralling 17-14 victory over Canada in the final of the inaugural HSBC Kitakyushu Sevens in Japan on Sunday.
The Black Ferns twice had to come from behind in the title decider and only hit the front when Michaela Blyde was worked over in the right corner with time up on the clock, sparking wild celebrations on the New Zealand bench.
In only their third meeting in a Cup final – and first since Atlanta in 2014 – it was Canada who went into the final arguably as favourites having enjoyed record wins over both Russia and Australia en route to the final, scoring 74 points and conceding none.
Canada thought they had opened the scoring through Jennifer Kish, but she lost control of the ball as she went over the line following a tackle from Blyde. However, it wasn't long before Hannah Darling raced away and, despite being tap-tackled by Portia Woodman, managed to touch down for a 7-0 lead.
A moment of magic from Niall Williams, where she scooped up a pass from Canada captain Ghislaine Landry and then raced away to score under the posts, ensured the teams went into half-time locked at 7-7 after Tyla Nathan-Wong's conversion.
Kish then edged Canada ahead once more, but only briefly as Woodman, who was named HSBC Player of the Final, raced the length of the pitch to score her seventh try of the tournament.
Nathan-Wong failed to add the conversion from out wide and so New Zealand had to score again if they were to win a third title of the season after their victories in Dubai and Las Vegas.
Fortunately for them, Kish fumbled the restart and the Black Ferns kept their composure before working the ball out for this season's top try-scorer Blyde to find a way over in the corner.
“It was close, Canada are an awesome team,” admitted New Zealand captain Sarah Goss. “The way the girls showed so much fight I am just really proud to have such an awesome group of girls around me. We train like that, we train when we’re down and know as long as there are minutes on the clock we know we have the X-factor to pull out winners like that.”
Coach Allan Bunting added: “We definitely saved the best until last in this tournament. We played with a lot of heart and character and you can't ask for much more, it was outstanding and I am really stoked for the girls and very proud. For us it was about playing longer and stronger, Canada are a really clinical team, they have been pretty consistent over the last few years so you have to play long and play well.
“I had no doubt, I knew the ladies were going to play right to the end so until that final whistle went there was a chance.”
The fifth and penultimate round of the 2016-17 series takes place in Langford, Canada, on 27-28 May.