The Blitzboks continue to the darlings of the South African rugby-watching public and are tearing away at the top of the table. Their 17-point lead over second-placed England will come in handy when they lose some of their star players for the rest of the season. ANTOINETTE MULLER picks some highlights from Sydney.
Another weekend, another fine display from South Africa’s favourite rugby team. Sure, it’s the truncated version of the sport but South African rugby needs all the positive mojo it can get.
South Africa overcame a bumpy group stage to beat USA 10-21 in the quarter-finals, run over Australia 12-26 and finally get one over bogey team England, beating them 14-29 as they made it three from four in the 2016-17 World Series Sevens.
Players now have just under a month to regroup and rejig before Las Vegas Sevens roll around. Here are some of the key points from the weekend’s action.
Fool me once, twice, thrice… but not four times
At the Rio Olympics, at the Cape Town Sevens, Wellington Sevens and the group stages of the Sydney Sevens, England pulled a fast one over the Blitzboks. The two sides met again in the weekend’s final and this time South Africa made sure that they learned from their mistakes. In a dominant display in the final, South Africa beat England 29-14 to clinch their third title of the current World Series Sevens. The three titles out of four series is the best start since New Zealand in 2008, who won five consecutive tournaments.
Speaking of England against the Blitzboks, never look away from the screen
If you needed a reminder that you should never turn your head away from the screen when the Sevens is on, the group match between South Africa and England was it. Leading 15-7 with just four minutes to go, the usually immaculate Blitzboks defence let in two tries in four minutes to hand England the win.
Justin Geduld is a worthy replacement for Cecil Afrika
It’s not exactly easy to replace veteran Cecil Afrika. The man can still side-step a Ferrari, despite Seabelo Sentla thinking he is a “fossil” by now. Afrika was ruled out with an injury for the Wellington and Syndey tournaments and while a big strength of this team has always been their depth, Geduld has sent a timely reminder of just how valuable he is to this side. In Wellington, he scored 33 points and he added 30 more in Sydney. While he doesn’t quite have the raw pace that Afrika or Senatla has he does have great vision when on the attack – both in open play and with the boot. That vision was highlighted by a pinpoint kick on day one against England. While his conversions have been so-so, having versatility in the side when Afrika returns and Senatla leaves will be key to South Africa seeing through the season.
An easy ride awaits in Vegas?
Teams take nothing for granted in Sevens, but South Africa have been drawn in Pool A alongside Wales, France and Canada. France have been below par this season and while Canada and Wales have both sprung a surprise or two, it should be smooth sailing for South Africa. Canada’s biggest effort so far came in Wellington, where they finished third, having lost 5-21 against South Africa in the semi-finals. It’s good news for South Africa who will be without Kwagga Smith and Senatla (off to go play XVs) and possibly a few others through injury.
Fiji current sit third on the table on 64 points, behind England (68) and South Africa (85). It certainly doesn’t mean that they can be written off, but perhaps Fiji have just lost their fear factor a little bit. There is no doubt that former coach Ben Ryan set the foundations in place for what will be many years of success, but since Ryan’s departure, the Olympic champions look like they are lacking just that extra touch of sharpness. Sure, South Africa are on another level this season, and Fiji are still competitive, but are fans as nervous when their team comes up against them? Maybe not as much as they should be.
Why not add the women’s event onto all tournaments?
The debate around whether women’s sport actually benefits from being played as a so-called “curtain-raiser” ahead of men’s games is divided into three camps. There’s yes, no and sort of. This is for the sort of camp. Women’s rugby is the fastest growing sport in the world and the benefits it could glean through broadcast are enormous. Beyond that, the exposure on the circuit and the benefits that come from that are equally huge. The more people watch (on TV and with their bums on seats), the more sponsors will be willing to put money towards it and the more the game can professionalise and expand. With Sevens now being an Olympics sport, that’s exactly the kind of boost the women’s game needs to become sustainable and avoid the three-team bottleneck effect that we’ve often seen in cricket. DM
Photo: South African players pray after defeating England in the Cup Final of the Sydney 7s World Rugby Series in Sydney, Australia, 05 February 2017. EPA/PAUL MILLER
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