Blitzboks outlasted in Singapore Sevens but extend Sevens Series lead

BY MARC JACOBSON - APRIL 18, 2017
Blitzboks outlasted in Singapore Sevens but extend Sevens Series lead

After losing their core players to either injury or Super Rugby commitments, the Blitzboks were left bare and vulnerable, and had as a result were left exposed on the field to slide to sixth-place at the Singapore Sevens over the weekend.

Never really looking convincing throughout the tournament, besides their 52-0 massacre over Japan in their first pool match; it looked almost inevitable that the Blitzboks would get toppled one time and another – or three times for that matter.

Three times it was, as they once again slumped 17-12 to their tagged bogeys, England in their final pool match, after just edging the unpredictable France 10-7 in their second. On the other hand, France beat England 24-14, but then upsettingly lost to Japan 21-14 – and thankfully so for South Africa.

If France had beaten Japan, the Blitzboks would have placed third in Pool B, due to France placing first on points and England placing second above South Africa, advantaging after winning the one-on-one encounter between the two comparative sides.

A third-place pool finish would have disqualified South Africa from progressing to the Cup quarter-finals, which has never yet happened in the history of the Sevens.

Fortunately so for the Blitzboks, they progressed as runners-up to the Cup quarters where they met Australia, and barely unsurprisingly, they lost 19-17 as inevitability caught up to them.

Falling out of Cup contention, South Africa then played Fiji in the fifth-place semi-finals for the losers of all the quarters, for which they struggled past a six-man Fiji 19-14 when Isake Katonibau got red-carded for a close-line tackle soon before half-time.

The Blitzboks then met traditional rivals New Zealand for the fifth-place final, which for the third time in the tournament, South Africa were outlasted and lost 17-12.

Positioning sixth may be well below standard for the Blitzboks, especially deeming from their excelling form in the 2016/17 season; but it ironically extended their lead at the top of the 2016/17 HSBC Sevens Series standings.

After a string of surprising results, which saw three of the four quarter-finals being upsets – including South Africa’s defeat, New Zealand’s defeat to Canada and Fiji losing to USA, before England's Semi-Final defeat to Canada, all ultimately saw an assortment of the Blitzboks’ Series contenders all also falling short.

As a result, South Africa extended their 23-point lead over Fiji from last week at Hong Kong, to 25 points this week with just two tournaments still remaining.

The upsets ultimately saw Canada winning the Singapore Sevens Cup Final for the first time in their history in an all-Americas final – beating USA 26-19 for the penultimate title.

This proves how pivotal the win over Fiji in the fifth-place semi proclaimed, because if South Africa lost, the Fijians would have closed the gap on them in the series standings.

“That win over Fiji was a vital one and one of the success stories of this tournament for us. By beating them in that crucial match, we could actually extend our lead over them, which is a massive bonus for us," Blitzboks Head Coach Neil Powell told SA Rugby.

"A lot of teams seem to battle to pick up their performances after Hong Kong. We also saw it last year when Kenya won their first ever title here and this time it happened to Canada. It is a tough tournament to play and we did not perform the way we wanted. We did extend our series lead though and that could prove pretty important,” Powell said.

England moved closer to Fiji on the standings and are breathing down their necks with just two points behind, but still 27 points astray from the Blitzboks. With this lead, Powell emphasized on the opportunity that new, raw talent can be given some field time.

“We could also blood a number of youngsters, giving them proper game time and there does not seem to be any real injury concerns. Those are all positives,” he added.

Top 10 of HSBC World Sevens Series Standings after round eight:

1. South Africa- 157

2. Fiji- 132

3. England- 130

4. New Zealand- 110

5. USA- 101

6. Australia- 94

7. Canada- 76

8. Argentina- 72

9. Scotland- 68

10. Wales- 61

Image: Blitzboks in action against Australia in the Singapore Cup Quarter-Finals.