Blitzboks pull off a Houdini act
Dramatic comeback seals third series title
The Blitzboks produced a comeback worthy of their 15s counterparts by winning the 2017-2018 HSBC World Sevens Series for a second straight year in dramatic fashion in Paris yesterday.
The Springboks came back from 24-3 down to beat England in the first test at Ellis Park on Saturday, and the Blitzboks did a similar escape act to retain the title they won so comfortably the previous season.
South Africa needed to win in Paris to have any chance of defending their title at the 10th and final leg of the season and they needed Fiji to be eliminated at the quarterfinal stage.
They lived up to their end of the bargain by reaching the final and beating England 24-14 in the goldmedal match after Fiji were shocked in the last eight.
It was a perfect finale to a season that the Blitzboks book-ended with tournament wins in Dubai in round one and Paris in round 10.
In between they made every semifinal, were runners-up in three events, third in three and fourth in two.
Despite five tournament wins, Fiji’s slow start to the season that saw them only make only one semifinal in the first three rounds came back to hurt them in Paris.
The Blitzboks finished with 182 points to Fiji’s 180.
England opened the door for South Africa with a 19-17 win over Fiji in the quarterfinals.
The Blitzboks put up a nervy display in their quarterfinal, needing extra time to beat surprise package Spain 19-14, and putting that behind them in a semifinal meeting with New Zealand.
The brilliant Justin Geduld scored the winning try in extra time to keep the dream alive.
The Blitzboks came out with a less tentative attitude against New Zealand, in the semifinal, running in three unanswered tries to lead 17-0 before eventually winning 24-12.
With only England to beat to claim the title for a third time in SA’s history, the Blitzboks, playing without the injured Seabelo Senatla, made the perfect start in the final.
Werner Kok stepped past four tacklers in driving rain for the opening try three minutes in, but England bounced back with two quick tries to lead 14-7.
However, SA went into the break on level terms when Ryan Oosthuizen scored and Geduld banged over a touchline conversion.
After half time, the livewire Dewald Human, only in the team for the injured Branco du Preez, sniped in for the team’s third try.
Again Geduld landed a tough conversion from the touchline.
SA managed the game brilliantly from then on, keeping the ball deep in England territory and asking them to run in treacherous conditions.
With a penalty in front, SA took the unusual option of kicking for goal to make sure England had to score twice to win after Geduld landed his fourth kick of the game.
It was a pragmatic and professional decision, which summed up the entire campaign.