London – New Zealand won the rugby sevens world series for a 12th time in 15 seasons but a pool loss to England sent the Kiwis on the hard road to defending their season-ending London title on Saturday.
Pool wins in the morning against Argentina (40-10) and Wales (49-0) before a sold-out Twickenham crowd of 75,000 ensured New Zealand reached the knockout stage on Sunday, and secured the world series a fourth straight time with an unassailable points lead over South Africa.
The Kiwis have won a series-leading four tournaments this season, twice as many as next-best South Africa and Fiji, and they have yet to lose before the semifinals.
That record will be on the line, as the 15-12 loss to England put New Zealand into a quarterfinal against South Africa, an unbeaten pool winner along with England, Samoa and Australia, all previous champions in London.
In the last pool game on a day of non-stop showers, New Zealand scored first through Gillies Kaka and led England 7-5 at halftime after Tom Powell's riposte on the left wing from a tap penalty.
With Tim Mikkelson sin-binned for tackling off the ground, England took advantage to lead with a chip-and-chase try by Tom Mitchell from another tap penalty. But New Zealand levelled with a superb solo try by Bryce Heem, who took in a kick outside his 22, slipped his marker, ran the short side, kicked ahead and beat three defenders to the ball in goal.
Mikkelson was set to score the winning try with a minute to go, but it was called back for a forward pass by the touchjudge, who was proved wrong by TV replays. Instead, England worked the ball to in front of the New Zealand posts, and a penalty gave captain Mitchell the winning kick.
England will play France in the quarterfinals, Australia will meet Kenya, and Samoa, in its first quarterfinal in four tournaments, faces Fiji.
South Africa accounted for Portugal, France and Scotland. The latter reached the semifinals last weekend in Glasgow, but failed to advance, as did Canada, the Glasgow finalist, which lost to Samoa and rallied to draw with Kenya 17-17, which wasn't enough.
Australia came from 12-7 down at halftime to win 24-12, keeping Fiji scoreless in the second half. – Sapa-AP