After two disappointing legs of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series in Australasia a few weeks back back, Neil Powell’s men arrived in Los Angeles last week with a point to prove. And prove it they did.
Thrice, against Ireland in the pools, USA in the quarters and in the final against Fiji, they clawed their way back into the game and the tournament. It was a fantastic performance.
Blitzboks opened their account in LA with a solid victory over Kenya (31-5). It was sweet revenge for the shoe being on the other foot in Hamilton the last time the two sides met. They followed this with an assured 33-5 defeat of Canada.
But, as suggested above, the wheels almost came off in the third and final pool game against Ireland. Blitzboks fell behind twice and fought back to level the scores – the second time was after the hooter. It was tight and if the Irish had held on to the ball for a few more seconds before kicking it out, they could have won.
But the draw secured top spot in the pool and set up a quarter-final against the host nation, USA. The home team put Blitzboks on the back foot early with two tries from speedster Carlin Isles, giving the hosts a 10-0 lead. But South Africa reduced the score to 10-5 at half-time courtesy of a try from Ryan Oosthuizen.
Blitzboks piled on the pressure in the second stanza, and despite some resolute American defence, finally broke through when JC Pretorius barged over under the posts just before full-time. Final score 12-10.
Next up it was New Zealand in the semi-finals and we must hand over to Stuff magazine in New Zealand to describe that for you: “New Zealand have been dumped out of the semifinals at the Los Angeles Sevens after a precision display of knockout footy from South Africa.”
Yup. The final score, in case you missed it, was 17-0, which set up the final against Fiji. And what a final. Blitzboks scored twice in the last minute to first force extra time and then claim a sudden death try winner to beat Fiji (29-24) for the title, and, in so doing, closing to within four log points of series leaders New Zealand.
LA was the seventh tournament of the 2020 series with only three rounds left before attention turns to the Olympics in Japan – Coronavirus permitting. This weekend it’s Vancouver (see our preview on page two).