Sydney 7s glory for Blitzboks

SWEET REVENGE: South Africa celebrate their victory after winning the men’s final match between England and South Africa in the 2017 HSBC Sydney 7s at Allianz Stadium yesterday in Sydney, Australia GETTY IMAGES
SWEET REVENGE: South Africa celebrate their victory after winning the men’s final match between England and South Africa in the 2017 HSBC Sydney 7s at Allianz Stadium yesterday in Sydney, Australia GETTY IMAGES
South Africa’s Sevens team powered their way to the Sydney 7s title, taking revenge on the only team to have beaten them in this year’s HSBC World Sevens Series – England – with a comprehensive 29-12 victory yesterday.

The Blitzboks made it an exceptional 85 out of a possible 88 points on this year’s circuit to open up a massive 17-point lead on England and place themselves a step closer to winning that elusive World Series crown.

The victory was their first ever at the Sydney 7s, and gave them a jubilant fortnight in Australasia by adding to their tournament win in Wellington to underline their status as the foremost team in World Sevens at the moment.

It was a personal victory for Blitzbok coach Neil Powell as well, as the team are slowly putting the disappointment of their bronze medal at the Olympics behind them and had planned their recovery week with precision to have just enough in the tank to overturn a pool loss to England a day before when it mattered most.

There would have been enough motivation against the English, especially after they shocked Powell’s side in Cape Town in December to win the tournament and disappoint the 50000 home fans.

It was also the best farewell for the two stalwarts in the side who will now head to the longer version of the game, and join Super Rugby sides upon their return. For both Kwagga Smith and World Rugby Sevens player-of-the-year Seabelo Senatla the farewell could not have gone any better, especially with Senatla picking up his second consecutive player-of-the-final award.

The speedster added another nine tries in the tournament to be the leading try-scorer once again, as he was in Wellington, and extended his lead as the all-time top Sevens try scorer in South Africa, now with 189 tries to his credit.

Senatla praised his team mates after the victory, saying he would not have been able to score so freely without them.

“It is incredible. The guys are just magicians; hats off to them, I am just the finisher of the moves. It is bitter sweet, we play here with family so it is a pity to be leaving the family but it’s a new challenge I am excited for.”

The big win in the final, of which the scoreline only looked more respectable when Dan Norton scored after the hooter to put England into double figures, was built on a rock-solid defence and an enthusiasm that has emerged as a shining light for South African rugby.

A tight-knit team who train together at the Stellenbosch Institute of Sport the entire season, the Blitzboks have become the ultimate professionals and leaders in their field, providing hope for the rest of the country after a tough 2016 for the 15-man Springboks.

Ironically it was the Blitzboks’ only blemish in Sydney that helped them with an easier draw in the Cup, after two weekends when their pool draw was as tough as it comes.

The loss put them on the side of the pool that didn’t feature England, New Zealand or Olympic champions Fiji, but allowed them to build up momentum as they headed to the final.

They were workman-like in a 21-10 win over the USA in the quarterfinals, and then survived an ill-tempered semifinal against hosts Australia to book their spot in the final.

England had swept aside Argentina and beat New Zealand on their way to the final, but couldn’t cope with the terrier-like defence of the Blitzboks in the final.

The defence was the part that allowed them to dominate in Wellington in letting in just four tries in six games, and while it creaked a little more, letting in 10 tries in six games in Sydney, it is far less than any other team on the circuit.

And considering their consistency of playing in all four finals this season – and five in a row if you count London last year – the chances of Powell allowing the team to slack in the remaining six tournaments looks slim.

The series now moves to Las Vegas, a venue traditionally kind to the Blitzboks, and then Vancouver. And if the Blitzboks can recreate the same consistent form in these two tournaments, the World Series crown may almost be a done deal. —

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