Dubai: Tyla Nathan-Wong made the best use of the opportunity to lead her country as New Zealand reiterated their status as the best in the business with a last-gasp 17-14 win over Canada in the women’s final at the Dubai Rugby Sevens late on Saturday.
Standing in place of injured captain Sarah Hirini, Nathan-Wong was at the heart of the New Zealand defence to ensure the Black Ferns successfully defended the title they won here 12 months ago.
Also missing through injuries were regulars Portia Woodman and Michaela Blyde, that resulted in the inclusion of Shiray Kaka into the squad.
Standout moments for the Black Ferns were a couple of tries from HSBC Player of the Final Stacey Waaka and the all-important try that came from substitute Gayle Broughton for the finishing touches to their fifth title at the Dubai Sevens.
Nathan-Wong was pleased with the character shown by her team despite the absence of a couple of key players. “We wear this black colour with a lot of pride and this is all about what this sport means to all of us,” Nathan-Wong said after the final.
“We’ve worked super hard to be here for the past three to four months and despite the injuries, we’ve done well to win this one. I am super proud of these bunch of girls,” the stand-in skipper added.
Despite the champions getting off to a great start with the smiling Waaka going in for an early try from the left flank, the Canadians hung on to go on the offensive with Karen Paquin and Julia Greenshields ensuring a slender 14-5 lead going into the second half. Midway through the second session, Waaka ran through the middle for her second try of the match to put New Zealand within striking distance.
The Black Ferns then had to wait till the final minute when Waaka was once again at her best — running through the middle and shipping the ball off to Broughton on her left for the deciding try.
After a sixth place in the season-opener in Glendale, Canada showed marked overall improvement in Dubai by knocking off strong contenders France and Australia in the quarter-finals and semi-finals, respectively.
One of the core teams in the World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series since its inception, the New Zealand women’s team is the reigning women’s champions having won the Rugby World Cup Sevens last season.
The Black Ferns also lead the Series for most points and tries scored as they sit third on the World Series standings after the tournament in Glendale with 16 points behind home champions USA (20 points) and Australia (18).
The ASB Rugby Awards comes up next week and Nathan-Wong is one of the nominees for the Women’s Sevens Player of the Year alongside teammates Kelly Brazier and her skipper Hirini.
Earlier, the USA — winners at the season-opening competition on home turf in Glendale — settled for a consolation third place with a 24-7 win over Australia.