Rugby Sevens: O'Donnell, Mikkelson Star as New Zealand Win in Wellington

Jeff CheshireAnalyst IIFebruary 6, 2011

DJ Forbes lifts the Cup as New Zealand win their fifth Wellington Sevens title.
DJ Forbes lifts the Cup as New Zealand win their fifth Wellington Sevens title.Marty Melville/Getty Images

Youngster Declan O'Donnell was the star of the show on Saturday night as a rampant New Zealand team won their fifth Wellington Sevens tournament, dispatching England 29-14 in the final.

New Zealand looked the goods the whole weekend, after seeing off challenges from Scotland, Papua New Guinea and Argentina during pool play on Day One, with Frank Halai being particularly devastating, touching down for three tries against Argentina.

They progressed on to Day Two, where they would comprehensively beat Wales and Australia en route to yet another final in front of their home crowd.

Fiji were sublime during Day One, but a red card to their danger man Seremaia Borutu in their quarterfinal threw a spanner into the works and Samoa were able to sneak past their more fancied opposition.

England entered the tournament as favourites on the back of a win in the last leg of the World Series in George. After an early scare from the Cook Islands, they progressed through to their quarter- then semifinal without any further troubles.

But the semifinal saw them come up against the high-flying Samoans and hung on by the skin of their teeth to win 7-5, a result that could have been reversed had it not been for a cruel bounce of the ball for Samoa in the last play of the game. 

This made way for a New Zealand-England final, a match that New Zealand would enter as red-hot favourites against an England side who had looked shaky in their last game.

But it was the English who drew first blood, with a try under the post to take the score to 7-nil very early on in the piece. The try would come as a double blow for New Zealand, as their inspirational caption, DJ Forbes, was forced to leave the field after sustaining an injury during the process of it being scored.

This was a huge blow and would see youngster Solomon King enter the game to fill the shoes of New Zealand's hard man.

They needn't have worried however, as King played the game of his life and was every bit as good as Forbes, while Declan O'Donnell was virtually untouchable as he dotted down for three tries to lead New Zealand to a 29-14 win.

After very good performances in the first two tournaments of the year, O'Donnell has now shown his home country what he capable of and will surely be looked at for a Super Rugby contract next year.

His speed was unmatched throughout the whole tournament and his uncanny instinct for running the right lines made him almost impossible to contain.

It was hard not to draw comparisons to rugby legend John Kirwan, as O'Donnell glided up the field to touch down for a total of 10 tries over the weekend.

Tim Mikkelson was also very good, proving to be a threat to defences with his speed and size. Having been on the circuit for a number of years now, he has become one of New Zealand's most experienced players, which showed in the way that he recognised when to go for the line and when to back off and set up again.

After losing DJ Forbes, he proved to be critical in the way he was able to direct play and set the tone of the game. This, along with a handful of tries, made him one of the players of the tournament.

Lote Raikabula was very much the unheralded hero of the team and was every bit as crucial to New Zealand's victory as O'Donnell and Mikkelson. Raikabula's work rate around the field is excellent, getting to almost every ruck to secure ball for his team.

It was this ability to secure the ball that saw New Zealand was able to exert its dominance on the competition. Once they had the ball, it was near impossible to get it off themand we all know that you can't win games without the ball. In the final Raikabula worked tirelessly to ensure his team retained the ball and was able to unleash their danger-men out wide.

Lower down in the draw, Fiji beat South Africa to win the Plate and showed that they will be one of the top teams as the 2011 season progresses. 

Kenya claimed the Bowl after a convincing win over a average-looking Tongan team, while the USA surprised many in the playoff for the Shield by beating a French side who had beaten South Africa the previous day.

But it was New Zealand's night, as they capped off their countries biggest annual sporting event in style. 

The World Series will now head to Las Vegas, where the teams will look to gain maximum points to count toward  their ultimate goal: winning the IRB World Sevens Circuit.