England claimed third place at the Hertz Sevens in Wellington after an agonising semi final defeat in sudden-death extra time against New Zealand.
Frank Halai’s try condemned them to a 17-12 reverse sending them into the play-off against Samoa.
Playmaker Christian Lewis-Pratt touched down twice – converting both his own tries – and Isoa Damudamu scored the clincher with Marcus Watson converting in a 21-12 win against the Islanders.
England climb one place to third in the overall HSBC Sevens World Series standings as a result, after picking up 17 points. They trail New Zealand – who beat Fiji 24-7 in the final – by nine heading into next weekend’s USA Sevens in Las Vegas, the fifth leg of the nine-event series.
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“Our performances were really positive, we felt we and New Zealand were the best two teams and we’re so close now,” said head coach Ben Ryan.
“We’re at the stage now that when we don’t win a tournament we feel disappointed. We’ve played New Zealand four times this season, won one and they’ve won three by a single score and that’s the difference between first place and third place.
“What was outstanding was the way we picked ourselves up for the third-place play-off and bounced back. It’s the first time we’ve won one having lost in Delhi [at the Commonwealth Games] and in Port Elizabeth.
“We now need a strong second week going to Las Vegas, we’ve got 12 guys fit and healthy and we’re ready to give it a good crack there.”
Earlier England had brushed aside Tonga 26-7 at the quarter final stage reach the last four.
Dan Norton, Mat Turner and captain Greg Barden all touched down in an impressive first half display – Christian Lewis-Pratt adding two conversions – and a second converted Turner try after the break put them out of sight with Daniel Kilioni scoring a last-minute consolation.
Then came a dramatic showdown with New Zealand in front of a sold-out Westpac Stadium crowd.
England dominated the first half with former Royal Marine Barden outflanking the cover for the first try and Chris Cracknell powering his way over for the second with Lewis-Pratt’s conversion putting them 12-0 up at the break.
Charles Piutau pulled one back mid-way through the second half before All Black Hosea Gear came off the bench to strike with the equalising score while James Rodwell was in the sin bin.
Both sides had chances in extra time before Halai – the leading try scorer in the series – sprinted 40 metres to win it.
HSBC Sevens World Series standings (top 8): 1 New Zealand 73, 2 Fiji 70, 3 England 64, 4 South Africa 61, 5 France 49, 6 Samoa 47, 7 Australia 45, 8 Wales 41.