Blitzboks’ finesse makes it 4 out of 5 at Las Vegas

BY MARC JACOBSON - MARCH 6, 2017
Blitzboks’ finesse makes it 4 out of 5 at Las Vegas

The Blitzboks surged their way to their fourth HSBC World Sevens Cup Title in the 2016/17 campaign out of five tournaments, after they won the Las Vegas Sevens Tournament in the early hours of Monday morning (SA time).

South Africa has now won an astonishing three consecutive tournaments in Wellington, Sydney and now Las Vegas respectively – this also after winning the Dubai Sevens in early December 2016. The Blitzboks’ only narrow slip-up came in the Cape Town Sevens a week later when they lost by a mere two points to England in the Cup Final.

In Las Vegas this past weekend, the Blitzboks at stages looked rattled against determined opposition right from the Cup quarters until the finals, as South Africa strung together wins all by seven points or less.

In their tournament try tally, the Blitzboks scored a total 22 tries and conceded nine, with the try advantage predominantly being racked up in the pool stages, where they were grouped up with Canada, France and Wales.

From the Cup knockout stages, the Blitzboks knew they had their efforts cut out for them, with no victory a formal conclusion – scraping past each opposition en route to their title by just a try advantage in each.

South Africa knew they were a marked side, and not surprisingly so, as prior to the Cup Quarters at Las Vegas, they had won an astounding 25 games out of 27 Sevens Series games in the current 2016/17 season. For this, the Blitzboks were the perceived team to beat and this did not fail to transmit – with all tight encounters and supressing much pressure throughout.

The home side, USA, came out firing in all cylinders in the Cup semi-final and South Africa had to dig deep to accumulate victory after the Americans scored the first two tries and took an initial 12-0 lead.

The Blitzboks then responded well, scoring three unanswered tries through Dylan Sage, Ruhan Nel and Werner Kok. Retreating well and scoring another converted try, the US then took a 17-15 lead with three minutes left.

Siviwe Soyiswapi then scored the constellation try for the Blitzboks to take the lead yet again with still two minutes to play. All-missed conversions could have cost South Africa with USA less than a try-score behind.

The Americans then won a line-out ball in South Africa’s 22-metre area on the death, but aggressive counter-rucking from the Blitzboks meant they were able to get the ball back and kick it out for the final whistle to sound for a tense 20-17 victory.

The Cup Final against Fiji was relatively heated, and the Blitzboks were helped by ill-discipline of their opposition, as a yellow and red card was dished out to the Fijians. Getting their yellow in the first half and their red late in the second half, the Fijians were unable to stream through any real momentum to beat a South African side with their tails high in the air.

Nonetheless, the Pacific Islander side, scoring the first and last tries of the game respectively put up a stern showing – making South Africa earn their Cup Title victory with a 19-12 win. Try scorers in the final were scored by Cecil Afrika, Chris Dry and Rosko Specman.

With Sevens stalwarts Seabelo Senatla and Kwagga Smith now having left the Blitzboks for Super Rugby commitments, the Cup title adds even a sweeter flavour to South Africa’s hopes. Top try-scorer, now in Senatla’s absence, was Specman with five tournament tries. Nel and Soyizwapi each dotted down the second-most with three tries each.

South Africa is now cemented with 24 points clear of the second-placed Fiji on the World Sevens Series Standings with a total of 107 points. Fiji on 83, are just two points ahead of England (81) and 12 points above New Zealand (71).

Coach Neil Powell heaped some praise for the character displayed by his side throughout the gist of the tournament.

“I am very happy. It was not our most clinical performance of the season at all, but we got the result and that is what was important. I would rather win ugly than lose pretty," Powell told SuperSport.

"The guys showed tremendous fighting spirit and always managed to come back and score the tries we needed to win the matches. They kept their focus and played very well in the second half of the matches, never giving up," he added.

Powell also commented on the roles that were filled in the absence of Senatla and Kwagga for the Las Vegas tournament.

"I thought Siviwe Soyizwapi and Dylan Sage did very well in taking over the roles of those two stalwarts. We are pretty blessed with our depth in the squad. It is good for the players also to realise that the structure is a sound one and as long as they look after it, the better the structure will look after them," Powell said.

Blitzboks results at the Las Vegas Sevens:

South Africa 26-7 Canada

South Africa 31-0 France

South Africa 21-7 Wales

South Africa 17-14 Australia (Cup Quarters)

South Africa 20-17 USA (Cup Semis)

South Africa 19-12 Fiji (Cup Final)

Image: Blitzboks celebrating their Cup victory at the Las Vegas Sevens.