Starmers: Finalists take giant stride in NZ

(IRB.COM) Sunday 3 February 2013
 
 Starmers: Finalists take giant stride in NZ
Kenya came desparately close to winning their maiden IRB Sevens Cup title at the Hertz Sevens in Wellington

Nigel Starmer-Smith, in Wellington

That was one of the very best finals I have ever witnessed in the history of the World Series.

I have seen many entertaining matches in my time and many in Wellington, including heroics from Victor Vito and also when Isoa Damu gave England an unlikely and last-minute victory in 2009, but this was up there for sure.

It was just so exciting. First 12-all, then 19-all and we had sudden death extra time before the young Sam Edgerley scored the winning try - much to the dismay of the New Zealand crowd who were clearly rooting for Kenya, but that just made the atmosphere wonderful throughout.

Often you have a side who has wilted due to their quarter final or semi final, but here both sides had overcome tough, close and competitive encounters, which made it level in the final.

With 10 seconds to go it looked for all the world as though Kenya were set to win their first ever Cup and cap a remarkable weekend in which they'd already come from behind to beat both South Africa and then New Zealand en route to the final.

I don't think anyone could have predicted that final. England had failed to reach a Cup quarter final all season, and Kenya faced New Zealand in a Cup semi on home soil. But Mike Friday has transformed Kenya. You had in the final someone like Dan Norton, who didn't get away from anyone, they are now disciplined and their defence is just so improved on what it was a couple of years ago. The captain Andrew Amonde is brilliant and Willy Ambaka - they call him their Jonah Lomu - is superb.

And now we go on to next week in Las Vegas and the confidence must be there for the Africans. They may not have won this phenomenal final in New Zealand, but they believe now that they have a Cup win in them. They have the skills and they know they can win.

England breathe life into their season

And for Ben Ryan, who said after the final whistle that this victory meant more to him than his first as coach in 2009, this result could galvanise England's season and distance them from any talk of the relegation dog fight. They can focus on the remaining five rounds with new vigour, and also look ahead to Rugby World Cup Sevens 2013 in Moscow.

The most exciting thing about this whole Series, though, is that you really don't know who is going to win. Australia, who lost just one match all weekend, were possibly the best side on show. New Zealand will always be up there, although they will be without captain DJ Forbes and Kurt Baker for the Las Vegas tournament.

There are six or seven sides who could realistically win. Seeing Fiji not reach a Cup quarter final for the first time, losing their first two matches in their pool and then losing to Canada in the Bowl final, was strange, but you have to say it is of their own making with so many new players chopped and changed this season already. Having said that, you always know if they can keep a squad together they could come and win again.

The game continues to be nothing short of fabulous. It is global in its appeal and competition, and you don't know what part of the world will win it next.

Video: Wellington knock-out highlights