The wheels are starting to come off the Blitzboks’ well-oiled machine but they remain firmly in control of the 2016-17 World Sevens Series after their worst finish of the season in Singapore at the weekend.
SA came sixth‚ ending a run of seven consecutive finals this season‚ but they still finished ahead of Fiji‚ their closest title challengers‚ which saw the Blitzboks stretch their lead at the top of the standings to 25 points.
The Blitzboks went into the eighth round of the 10-leg series 23 points clear of Fiji‚ but the islanders’ lost ground after finishing seventh.
The two sides met in a minor playoff to see who would contest the fifth/sixth playoff‚ which guaranteed at least an extra two log points.
SA won 19-14 thanks to a brilliant solo try from Cecil Afrika, with Fiji down to six men.
“Yes‚ that win over Fiji was a vital one and one of the success stories of this tournament for us,” coach Neil Powell said.
“By beating them in that crucial match‚ we could actually extend our lead over them‚ which is a massive bonus for us.
“We could also blood a number of youngsters‚ giving them proper game time and there do not seem to be any real injury concerns. Those are all positives.”
England‚ in third place overall going into the tournament 32 points adrift of SA‚ ended third in Singapore to earn 17 log points‚ which marginally narrowed their deficit to 27 points.
But with two rounds to go – in Paris and London – the Blitzboks have one hand firmly on the overall title. The finish line is in sight for an injury-ravaged SA team and two more steady performances should see them to their first title since 2009 and second in the history of the series.
Going into the tournament, SA had only lost four matches out of 42 but they lost three in Singapore – 17-12 to England in pool play‚ 19-17 to Australia in the quarterfinals‚ and 17-12 to New Zealand in the fifth/sixth playoff.
On day one, the Blitzboks scored wins over Japan (52-0) and France (10-7)‚ which was enough to ensure they made the last eight before they came up against England in their final pool match.
Canada were the surprise winners of the tournament‚ claiming their maiden series win just as Kenya did in Singapore 12 months earlier.
The Canadians overcame the USA 26-19 in an all North American final‚ to further underline how the game of Sevens is no longer dominated by three or four teams.
The standings after eight rounds of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series are: 1. South Africa 157 2. Fiji 132 3. England 130 4. New Zealand 110 5. USA 101 6. Australia 94 7. Canada 76 8. Argentina 72 9. Scotland 68 10. Wales 61 – TMG Digital