The Springbok Sevens team maintained their strong lead at the top of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series, despite losing to Fiji in the final of the Hong Kong Sevens on Sunday.
A title at the Hong Kong National Stadium keeps on eluding the Blitzboks, but coach Neil Powell will be pretty pleased with his team reaching a seventh consecutive final of the 2016/17 season and more importantly, not giving Fiji or England any leeway on the overall series log, despite a lop-sided 22-0 scoreline in the final.
South Africa came into the tournament with a 23-point margin over England in second and 26 over Fiji in third and will depart with that lead intact with only tournaments in Singapore, Paris and London left in the series.
Fiji’s win moved them into second place, 23 points adrift of the Blitzboks, with England losing ground in third, now 32 points adrift in third place.
In the final, a number of unforced errors and some traditional Fijian flair secured a third consecutive title for the Pacific team.
Strong defence by Fiji resulted in a number of break-away tries and they never looked like surrendering their 12-0 lead at the break. Two more tries in the second half earned Fiji a well-deserved title.
The Blitzboks secured a seventh consecutive final in the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series when they beat USA 29-24 in extra time in the Cup semifinals.
Earlier in the day, they edged New Zealand 21-19 in the Cup quarters.
The Blitzboks needed a try in extra-time to beat the USA in their semifinal. With seconds left on the clock, Perry Baker scored for the USA to tie scores at 24-all, but Madison Hughes could not convert for the win.
In extra time, South Africa attacked from deep and following a number of plays, Ruhan Nel raced in from 30 meters to score the try.
Earlier in the first half, the USA opened the scoring before two tries by Siviwe Soyizwapi and Dylan Sage and a conversion by Branco du Preez edged them 12-7 ahead at the break.
The second half saw two more tries from South Africa, with Philip Snyman and a second by Soyizwapi had them in a strong 24-7 lead.
The USA struck back though, with three tries of their own, only to be denied by Nel in extra time.
Against New Zealand, the South Africans started well, with Chris Dry scoring from a good turn-over and counter-attack by his team. Branco du Preez slotted a difficult conversion. New Zealand then struck back to score and when Dylan Sage was yellow-carded just before the half-time, the Kiwis scored again to take a 12-7 lead into the break.
The second half was all South Africa. Their leading point’s scorer, Cecil Afrika, raced through a gap to score, with the conversion by Du Preez a good one.
The 14-12 lead turned into a 21-12 lead with a minute left when Werner Kok scored from close range and Afrika kicked a beautiful conversion.
New Zealand scored a consolation try after the final buzzer, but it was too late to stop the SA team.
The tournament delivered a couple of personal highlights:
•Cecil Afrika, who played in his 50th tournament in the series, extended his career point’s scoring record to 1227.
•Branco du Preez became the second South African to move past 1000 points. Du Preez scored in Hong Kong and 1010 in his career.
•Ryan Oosthuizen, who travelled to Hong Kong as the reserve player also made his debut for the Blitzboks when he replaced Selvyn Davids before the final.
The World Series standings after seven tournaments are:
1. South Africa 145
2. Fiji 122
3. England 113
4. New Zealand 97
5. USA 82
6. Australia 79
7. Argentina 69
8. Scotland 61
9. Canada 54
10. Wales 53