England snatched victory after the full-time hooter to upset New Zealand 19-17 in the final of the third leg of the International Rugby Board Sevens series yesterday.
It was a dramatic fightback by England who had trailed 0-17 before halftime.
But they clawed their way back into the game to stun the capacity 35,000 mainly partisan New Zealand crowd who had prematurely started celebrating in the stands before the final whistle.
Tries to Ollie Phillips and Rob Vickerman reduced the gap to 12-17. At the hooter, with both sides reduced to six men, England mounted a 60m attack that ended with Isoa Damudamu crossing the line to level the score.
Ben Gollings, the most prolific scorer in the 10-year history of the tournament, calmly added the conversion to give England the title.
“It’s been a long time coming,” the elated English veteran said as his side pocketed their first title in Wellington.
New Zealand captain D.J. Forbes was devastated.
“We led all the way and to stuff it up like that was heartbreaking,” he said.
South Africa, who made a dream start to this season’s championship, winning the first two tournaments, were knocked out in the quarter-finals after losing a tense clash with New Zealand 0-7.
But they bounced back to win the plate final and take eight points from the competition to remain at the head of the table on 48, four points clear of England and New Zealand on 44.
England did not look likely tournament winners on the opening day of the tournament, finishing second in Pool C after losing to Argentina.
They started the second day in similar fashion and trailed regular Sevens stars Fiji 5-10 at halftime in their quarter-final, before emerging after the break a far more determined outfit.
They piled on 26 points against the Fijians to win their first knockout match 31-10 and then beat tournament giant-killers Kenya 24-0 in the semi-finals.
But in the opening stages of the final it was all New Zealand, starting with a try to Paul Grant.
When England mounted a charge, Tom Biggs was cut down just short of the line and New Zealand counterattacked with an end-to-end move that resulted in a try to Zar Lawrence.
New Zealand captain Forbes, playing with a lower leg hairline fracture, scored his side’s third try in the eighth minute.
But England refused to roll over and their four-try comeback earned them the title of the best attacking side of the tournament, scoring 23 tries in all, while Phillips was the leading individual try scorer with seven.