Blitzboks let it slip

Hopes for title fade as on-fire Fiji win 21-17 in London leg

Josua Tuisova, of Fiji, avoids a tackle from Ruhan Nel, of South Africa, on day two of the HSBC London Sevens at Twickenham in London yesterday
Josua Tuisova, of Fiji, avoids a tackle from Ruhan Nel, of South Africa, on day two of the HSBC London Sevens at Twickenham in London yesterday
Image: Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images

The Blitzboks’ hold on the World Sevens Series title is almost over after Fiji beat South Africa 21-17 in the final of the London leg of the series yesterday.

The win gave Fiji their fifth title of the 2017-18 series and pushed their lead to seven points on the standings over SA, with the final leg in Paris to come.

For the Blitzboks to retain the title now, Fiji would have to fail to make the semifinals in Paris and the Blitzboks would have to win.

Given Fiji’s dominance this season that is an unlikely scenario.

It was a courageous effort from the Blitzboks in London, especially as they lost Branco du Preez and Cecil Afrika to injury on day one.

That certainly played a part, but regardless, SA did not have enough firepower against the form team of the season. Fiji should deservedly wrap up the title next week.

“I was very happy with the team’s performance, especially after losing to Samoa in our final match on day one and losing Branco and Cecil,” coach Neil Powell said.

“We came into day two with only 11 players and the guys showed a lot of heart out there, not just in the final against Fiji, but also in the semifinal against England and the quarterfinal against New Zealand.

“We have heart and for us as a team it’s all about trying to win the inches and take away inches from teams.

“We also try to make sure that everybody understands their roles and responsibilities on the field at all times, especially in defence.

“That is something we pride ourselves on, but unfortunately against Fiji we made a few mistakes.
“That is also a compliment to the quality of Fiji though because they are a very good attacking team and it’s not often you can keep them scoreless.”

After topping their pool on day one, the Blitzboks faced New Zealand in the last eight yesterday and had to fight all the way to the final whistle to secure a 14-5 win to advance to a meeting with hosts England in the last four.

Seabelo Senatla scored his 221st World Series try during the 29-19 win over England, moving him to fourth on the all-time scorers list ahead of England’s Ben Gollings.

But Fiji rolled imperiously through the quarters and semis – beating Canada 40-7 and Ireland 38-12 – to set up a meeting with the Blitzboks in the final.

Fiji coach Gareth Baber complimented the Blitzboks, saying his side tried to emulate them in terms of consistency.

“They pushed us all the way. By the bounce of the ball, it could have gone the other way. We’re in a good position now,” he said.

In the showpiece game, SA scored early through Stedman Gans to take a 7-0 lead, and went into half time at 7-7 after Josua Tuisova scored for Fiji just before the break.

From the restart, Fiji pounced, with Paula Dranisinukula scoring the islanders’ second try before Ruhan Nel latched on to a wild pass from Senatla to score SA’s second

It brought the Blitzboks to within two points, but Fiji re-established their cushion when Jasa Veremalua extended the lead with a third try.

A late Zain Davids try was not enough for the Blitzboks and now they have to hope Fiji stumble spectacularly in Paris.