The Springbok Sevens team secured third place at the HSBC Paris Sevens on Sunday, which cemented their fourth position overall at the completion of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series for the 2018/19 season in the French capital.
The Blitzboks won the bronze final 24-7 against USA – their final match of the World Series season.
After a convincing 40-7 victory over Samoa in their Cup quarter-final earlier on Sunday, they came unstuck in their semi-final against New Zealand (33-7) before claiming bronze against the USA.
Fiji, who won the tournament by beating New Zealand in the final, also claimed the World Series crown, held for the last two seasons by the Blitzboks.
In their final match of the season against the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series runners-up, the Blitzboks scored four tries, three of those in the second half to end the season on a high.
It means that Neil Powell and his team finished the 2018/19 series with a good victory and five wins from their six matches in the French capital this weekend.
Powell said the results on the day reflected their season: “I was very happy about the way we played against Samoa, the guys really pitched up for that one. Against New Zealand, we unfortunately did not do that well and that was disappointing. Luckily we came good again against USA to end the tournament and year off on a positive note.
“Somehow inconsistency crept into our play and that was a critical element of our season. We will look at that in our review and how we can improve next season.
“We were targeted at the breakdowns, especially by the likes of New Zealand, and that is an area where we need to get better.”
Powell said it was a tough season for him as a coach: “We had senior guys leaving and new players coming in, which challenged our culture. We started off poorly, but certainly grew in the latter part of the season, with the two tournament wins a highlight of the season.”
Reflecting on the season and what lies ahead, Powell said the progression by the team in the last couple of months is another highlight. The Blitzboks will now enjoy a welcome break, with the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo looming large on the landscape next season.
“There were a couple of new players who really showed that they can play for this time for a long time to come,” said Powell.
“We will plan with the Olympic Games in mind. For now, we welcome the break.”
In the bronze final, the USA were first on the score sheet when Perry Baker crossed for a converted try, but the Blitzboks hit back with tries by Muller du Plessis (2), who was included in the HSBC Paris Sevens Dream Team, Ryan Oosthuizen and Philip Snyman, two of which were converted by Dewald Human.
However, the effort against New Zealand was disappointing. The Blitzboks could not get going against the men in black. They had early chances, but did not convert, while the Kiwis took every opportunity to punish a somewhat disorganised South African defence. Three tries in the opening seven minutes gave them a 21-0 lead at the break.
The second half started on a more positive note with Cecil Afrika scoring a try, converted by Human to close the gap to 21-7. Two more New Zealand tries killed off any chances of a successful defence of their HSBC Paris Sevens crown for the Blitzboks though.
In the first game on Sunday, against Samoa, the Blitzboks started strong and scored six tries, with four of those coming in a first half blitz that saw them leading 26-0 at the break. Justin Geduld was first over the line, before Branco du Preez followed a minute later as South Africa dominated the kick-offs due to stellar work by Impi Visser.
Werner Kok scored after the Blitzboks attacked to the left and then came back to where Kok lurked in the wing. Du Preez converted three of the tries to have South Africa in command at the break.
Du Plessis extended that lead with a strong run early in the second half, beating a couple of defenders. The last try for South Africa came from Snyman, who used good strength to bulldoze his way over the line. Human’s conversion pushed the score out to 40-0, but credit to Samoa, who kept plugging away, with Alamanda Motuga getting a late score.
Snyman came into the squad as replacement for Sako Makata, who did not start the day due to an ankle injury.
South Africa 24 (5), USA 7 (7)
South Africa – Tries: Muller du Plessis (2), Ryan Oosthuizen, Philip Snyman. Conversions: Dewald Human (2).
USA – Try: Perry Baker. Conversion: Madison Hughes.
South Africa 7 (0), New Zealand 33 (21)
South Africa – Try: Cecil Afrika. Conversion: Dewald Human.
New Zealand – Tries: Regan Ware (2), Jona Nareki, Andrew Knewstubb, Amanaki Nicole. Conversions: Knewstubb (4).
South Africa 40 (26), Samoa 7 (0)
South Africa – Tries: Justin Geduld (2), Branco du Preez, Werner Kok, Muller du Plessis, Philip Snyman. Conversions: Du Preez (4), Dewald Human.
Samoa – Try: Alamanda Motuga. Conversion: Paulo Toilolo Fanuasa.
· Tournament wins: Vancouver, Singapore
· Podium finishes: Cape Town (3rd), Paris (3rd)
· Pool standings: The Blitzboks were the only side to top their pool in all 10 World Series tournaments this season.
1. Fiji 186
2. USA 177
3. New Zealand 162
4. South Africa 148
5. England 114
6. Samoa 107
7. Australia 104
8. France 99
9. Argentina 94
10. Scotland 72
Most season points:
1. Selvyn Davids 203
2. Siviwe Soyizwapi 165
3. Branco du Preez 140
Most career points:
1. Cecil Afrika 1440
2. Branco du Preez 1302
3. Seabelo Senatla 1220