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Blitzboks settle for consolation bronze after campaign of missed chances

Blitzboks settle for consolation bronze after campaign of missed chances

South Africa claimed a consolation bronze medal in the Rugby Sevens at the Olympics after an emphatic win over Japan on Thursday night. Fiji, meanwhile, were crowned Olympic champions with a convincing win over Great Britain. BY ANTOINETTE MULLER

Heyneke Meyer will remain the only South African rugby coach with a loss to Japan next to his name after the Blitzboks clinched a 54-14 victory against them on Thursday night. The win ensured South Africa claimed the bronze medal, the country’s fourth medal of the Games.

Japan had been immense in the Sevens over the course of three days, claiming scalps of New Zealand, Kenya and France before losing to eventual winners Fiji in the semi-finals. They ran out of gas against more steely opposition in the final day.

In their bronze medal match, South Africa rediscovered some of their razzle dazzle in a game that was both beautiful and painful to watch. Beautiful, because this is how everyone knows the Blitzboks can play and painful because this is exactly the kind of mesmerizing magic that they lacked in their first crunch match of the day.

Equally painful were the gaping holes in the South African defence which allowed Japan to slip through the cracks. This time, though, unlike their semi-final against England, the attack ensured those gaps were plugged sufficiently as they crossed over the whitewash eight times.

But the win will be bittersweet as their campaign is far more likely to be remembered for all the missed chances. After looking like one of the best sides on the opening day – where they kept clean sheets against both France and Spain – they took their foot off the gas and lost in the pool match against Australia. They bounced back from that defeat and beat the same opposition convincingly on the same day, but once again failed to click in a crunch game against Great Britain.

While the loss of ace Seabelo Senatla, ruled out with a wrist injury at the start of the final day, would have been discombobulating, this team has been training and working for this for months. It cannot be an excuse. Their opposition – Great Britain – had been together for just ten weeks. For a team who has been working so hard for this, this can only been seen as a disappointment and it is the wasted chances against Great Britain that will sting the most.

Despite looking in control for much of the match, South Africa failed to capitalise on the attacks and consistently ran into a resolute Great Britain defence. The absence of a finisher like Senatla quickly became apparent, but the South Africans’ decision making left much to be desired.

Perhaps the most perplexing moment came in the first half when Kwagga Smith had three players on his right with an open try line, but opted to go left instead and missed his target. A try from that position would have put South Africa in a comfortable position – by semi-final standards – of being 10-0 up. But hindsight is always 20-20 and it would be overly harsh to blame this loss on a single player. The end result was largely down to a lack of composure. The lack of composure in such a clutch game will hurt, especially since it’s that composure that earned them a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games in 2014.

However, it’s not as if these signs have not been there throughout their World Series campaign and the build up to the Games. South Africa have often struggled for consistency throughout the course of the last nine months or so, South Africa were almost always the bridesmaid – having won just one of the four finals they managed to qualify for across the tournament.

Fortunately, they will get another chance in four years’ time as rugby’s return to the Games has almost certainly been the most thrilling comeback since Julius Malema revived his political career as leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters.

In the final, Fiji claimed the first Olympic medal in their history when they hammered Britain 43-7 to win the men’s rugby sevens final at the Rio Games on Thursday.

The Pacific islanders started in ruthless fashion, notching up up five first-half tries from Osea Kolinisau, Jerry Tuwai, Jasa Veremalua, Leone Nakarawa and Vatemo Ravouvou, with two Kolinisau conversions, for a 29-0 lead.

Josua Tuisova and Mata Viliame added to that tally in the second period with Dan Norton grabbing a consolation try for Britain in the one-sided match at the Deodoro Stadium.

The bronze-medal match proved to be one too many for Japan, shock winners over fancied New Zealand in their opening pool match, as South Africa crushed them 54-14. DM

Photo: Photo: Rosko Specman of South Africa in action during men’s Rugby Sevens bronze medal match between Japan and South African at the Deodoro Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 11 August 2016. EPA/YOAN VALAT

Additional reporting on Fiji match by AFP.

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