Gutsy Blitzboks hang on to top spot

Muller du Plessis of South Africa grabs Nick Boyer of the United States during the bronze medal game at Canada Sevens, the Sixth round of the HSBC Sevens World Series at the BC Place stadium Centre on March 11, 2018 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Muller du Plessis of South Africa grabs Nick Boyer of the United States during the bronze medal game at Canada Sevens, the Sixth round of the HSBC Sevens World Series at the BC Place stadium Centre on March 11, 2018 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Image: Ben Nelms/Getty Images/AFP

Despite a third place finish in Vancouver on Sunday – the sixth legs of the 2017/18 HSBC World Sevens Series – the Blitzboks are still clinging to top of the overall standings.

Olympic champions Fiji have closed the gap on SA to eight points with four rounds of the series to play after winning in Vancouver‚ but Neil Powell’s team proved their fighting qualities.

The Blitzboks were ousted by Fiji (15-12) in the Vancouver semis but rallied to thrash the USA – winners in Las Vegas the previous week – 29-7 to take the bronze medal.

SA were fourth in Vegas.

Although head coach Neil Powell has set the target of reaching the finals in both Las Vegas and Vancouver‚ it was always a lofty ambition considering his side went to North America without six seasoned veterans.

They also lost the experienced Werner Kok on day one in Nevada and Ruhan Nel on the first day in British Columbia and were forced to blood several youngsters over the past fortnight.

The fact that they reached the semis both weekends was a sign that there is depth in the SA Sevens programme and there is also confidence within the squad despite all the setbacks.

In Vancouver‚ the Blitzboks beat Russia (38-7) and Scotland (21-0) in Pool play to secure a quarterfinal berth.

They lost their final Pool match 33-14 against New Zealand‚ which meant a last eight clash against Australia.

The Wallabies ran into a 19-0 lead at halftime and the game looked over for the Blitzboks.

But in what might become the defining game of the campaign for a team of youngsters‚ the Blitzboks rallied with four tries and a master-class in suffocating pressure‚ to win 24-19.

Dylan Sage scored the winning try two-and-a-half minutes after the final hooter sounded. It was a lesson in composure and belief in the team’s strategy.

Losing to Fiji by the narrowest of margins was a tough blow‚ but again the Blitzboks picked themselves up to ensure they didn’t lose too much ground to their major title rivals by finishing third.

Fiji beat Kenya 31-12 to take the title.

The Blitzboks arrived in Vancouver with a 10-point advantage over New Zealand at the top of the standings and now lead Fiji by eight points.

South Africa has 109 points‚ followed by Fiji (101)‚ New Zealand (92) and Australia (84). The remaining tournaments are in Hong Kong‚ Singapore‚ London and Paris.

“We have very high standards and there were times when we did not achieve that‚” Powell said.

“We did play very well at times and especially the comeback against Australia was very pleasing. I thought we were out of it‚ to be honest. But the guys kept their composure."

Powell was forced to face Fiji without Nel‚ ruled out through injury‚ with replacement player‚ Marco Labuschagne‚ coming into the team.

“Against Fiji we had the opportunity to beat them‚ but did not‚ so that is something we need to get better at.

"Against teams like that‚ you get that one chance and you must use it.

“Against the USA‚ it was the ideal opportunity to give the younger guys a chance and they responded very well.

"There were mistakes made‚ but that is how you learn and I was impressed by their efforts.”

Sage had a very strong tournament‚ not only scoring the most tries (4)‚ but also making the most tackles. Sage (18)‚ Branco du Preez (17) and Cecil Afrika (16) were the leading defenders.

Overall‚ South Africa made the most tackles at the tournament (136).

They also lead the series in tackles made this far (744) and lead the try-scoring stakes‚ with 148 tries‚ with Australia (139) and Fiji (137) next.

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