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Losing finalists South Africa put on a much-improved performance at the Sydney Sevens compared with a week earlier in Hamilton where they finished 10th. The new format sees the quarterfinals scrapped which means only the top teams in the four groups advance to the elite Cup competition semi-final. Last week in Hamilton the Blitzboks surprisingly lost a pool match to England, could only come second in their group and were out of the Cup. This time round, they made no such mistake. The relatively new-look team which took some time to gel in New Zealand hit its straps fast in Sydney. France, one of the surprise teams in this season’s competition, could have been the banana peel in the group stage but South Africa triumphed 24-12, and thrashed their other opponents Argentina (52-14) and Samoa (36-0). They held their nerve against the USA in the semi-final 19-12, before going down in a gallant battle in the pouring rain against Fiji 12-10. Coming into the Sydney Sevens 2nd-placed South Africa trailed leaders New Zealand on the overall log by 15 points. Thanks to Fiji knocking New Zealand out of the Cup competition in their group clash, the Kiwis could only finish 5th. South Africa managed to close the gap on their arch-rivals and now trail them by 9 points as the teams head off to North America later this month. – David O’Sullivan
The Springbok Sevens team on Sunday closed the gap on New Zealand in the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series log and consolidated second spot after suffering an agonising 12-10 defeat to Fiji in the final of the HSBC Sydney Sevens.
The Kiwi side are still top of the log with 76 points after four tournaments, with South Africa nine points behind on 67. France (56), who started the weekend in joint-second spot with South Africa, dropped to third, followed by England (54), Fiji (53) and USA (47).
The final was played in a downpour at Bankwest Stadium and this resulted in a tight affair which saw Fiji scoring twice in the first half. After Fiji scored an early converted try, JC Pretorius responded to cut the lead to just two points.
Fiji extended the lead with a well-worked move from a line-out to lead 12-5 at the break.
Zain Davids scored out wide late in the second half, but that still left the Blitzboks two points short and hard as they tried, the final scoring act did not come, and Fiji could celebrate.
Earlier in the day, South Africa qualified for the final by beating USA 19-12 and dominating Samoa 32-0.
The performance of the Blitzboks proved a huge improvement from last weekend and coach Neil Powell expressed his satisfaction with the overall effort, but said the result in the final is hurting.
“That one hurts a bit, because we did not sustain the excellent form we displayed in the first four matches of the tournament. We had some basics letting us down in the final and that was disappointing. We paid the price, unfortunately.”
Powell paid credit to Fiji: “I thought we had control of the match till the end, but Fiji exploited our mistakes and they won. Our guys really deserve credit though with their effort this week. The final will be a negative, but there are so many positives for us from this weekend,” the coach pointed out.
“We will be going into the next tournament with some confidence and momentum and that is a good thing.”
Blitzboks captain, Stedman Gans, said the mistakes in the final will be remembered.
“We did improve a lot from last weekend and the way we improved was very positive. The final was a let-down though and we will have to look at ourselves again, because we lost due to our mistakes. As a squad, we are improving though and I think we are on the up, which is a good thing.”
The Blitzboks will return to their home base in Stellenbosch on Monday evening.
The next tournament of the World Series will be played in Los Angeles on 29 February and 1 March, followed by Vancouver a week later.
Three Blitzboks, JC Pretorius, Angelo Davids and Selvyn Davids were named in the tournament Dream Team.
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