Australia beat New Zealand to win in Kuala Lumpur
April 22, 2001

Australia snatched a dramatic 19-17 victory over arch rivals New Zealand in the final of the Malaysia Sevens on Sunday to pull level with the Kiwis at the top of the International Rugby Board table.

Tim Atkinson scored a try in the last minute to even the scores at 17-17, then Tom McVerry kicked the vital conversion to hand the Kiwis their first loss to Australia since last year's Brisbane Sevens.

The finale was a reverse of the Hong Kong semi-final three weeks ago when New Zealand snatched a remarkable win with an injury-time conversion.

Both teams now stand on 102 points in the World Sevens Series while Fiji remain third with 92.

"They played their hearts out because they really wanted this win," Australian coach Glen Ella said.

"We made a few mistakes, but I was pleased that the boys remained calm as it get so tense. I definitely need a drink after this."

Rising star Johnny Leo'o put the Kiwis in front in the opening minute of the game, which Damian Karauna converted.

When Leo'o's front row partner, Chris Masoe, received a yellow card for a high tackle, Australia should have got back on level terms, but the New Zealand defence held on.

In the seventh minute, Australias tenacious captain Richard Graham dived over for his teams first try, but the conversion attempt went wide and New Zealand led 7-5 at the break.

Soon into the second half, Masoe scored New Zealands second try, but Atkinson responded with his first to square things at 12-12 after stalwart Cameron Pither sliced up the Kiwi defence.

The crowd of 10,500 sensed an amazing climax and showed that a passion for rugby obviously thrives in Malaysia.

Wing Dan Parkinson put New Zealand back in front with four minutes left on the clock, but the conversion attempt was unsuccessful.

Graham was caught five metres short by Karauna, so it was left to Atkinson to do the business and score the equaliser under the posts to allow McVerry an easy conversion.

Kiwi coach Gordon Tietjens, whose team won a Commonwealth Games gold medal here in 1998, said they had missed star Rico Gear in the final.

"Rico got injured in the semi-final win over South Africa," Tietjens said.

"That was a big blow because he had been outstanding in earlier games."

Earlier, two second-half tries from speedster Peter Miller had seen
Australia come from behind to beat Fiji 19-7 in the other semi-final.

Ella said that to play Fiji you have to put pressure on them.

"When you do that, they lose concentration and you can score tries. Fiji have the speed and their tackles were amazing, but when they lose concentration, that's it."

Samoa, beaten comprehensively by neighbours Fiji in the Cup quarter-finals, went on to win the Plate and stay in fourth place in the IRB table, two points clear of South Africa.

The Samoans dumped Wales 26-0 in the Plate semi-finals, then held off France for a 19-14 win in the final.

South Korea triumphed over England 24-12 to capture the Bowl and add to their growing reputation as giant-killers.

The Koreans defeated Canada 12-5 in the semis to leave the once-powerful Canadians wondering where they had gone wrong.

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