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RUGBY

Springbok women fail the Fiji litmus test in last-gasp World Cup defeat

Springbok women fail the Fiji litmus test in last-gasp World Cup defeat
Akanisi Sokoiwasa of Fiji is tackled during the Women’s Rugby World Cup 2021 match against the Springboks at Waitakere Stadium, Auckland, New Zealand on Sunday 16 October 2022. (Photo: Andrew Cornaga / Photosport / BackpagePix)

The South African 15s rugby outfit went down in a 21-17 upset to Rugby World Cup debutants Fiji on Sunday morning. The result calls for introspection from the Springboks.

Sport is a game of surprises. Much like in life. In general, the strongest contender (on paper) usually emerges as the victor. Nonetheless, sometimes the underdog triumphs.

The Springbok women’s team went into their clash with Fiji as favourites. After all, they are ranked 10 places higher than their opponents. 

In fact, grouped with world No 1 England and fourth-ranked France, the South Africans had eyed the Fiji contest as the fixture they could win to boost their chances of qualifying for the knockout stage as one of the best third-placed finishers.

springbok women

Springbok Libbie Janse van Rensburg of South Africa evades a Fijian tackler at Waitakere Stadium, Auckland, New Zealand on Sunday, 16 October 2022. (Photo: Andrew Cornaga / Photosport / BackpagePix)

Instead, the Boks went down 21-17 to the World Cup debutants. It was a disappointing result for Stanley Raubenheimer’s troops. The outcome has effectively ended the team’s latest World Cup campaign. This was after they missed out on the 2017 campaign altogether.

“It really hurts. We targeted this game for a win. But credit to Fiji, who refused to give up and got that final try,” said a disappointed Raubenheimer.

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“A victory in your very first World Cup is massive and congratulations to them. For us, there was obviously disappointment and I don’t really want to dwell on the result,” continued the Bok coach.

“We had opportunities, but paid the price for not forcing our game plan on Fiji. We allowed them to dictate terms and that allowed them to beat us. That is not how we hoped this tournament would go for us.”

The Boks have one more match left in the group phase, against England. Raubenheimer believes that if they do not head into the match with the belief that they can come away with a positive result, they need not bother even playing the tie.

Of course, considering that the English are the tournament favourites and they steamrolled the Boks’ latest conquerors 84-19, 10 days ago, the prospect of a win in that encounter is almost nil.

springbok women fiji

South African players sing the national anthem before their Women’s Rugby World Cup match against Fiji in New Zealand at Waitakere Stadium, Auckland on Sunday, 16 October 2022. (Photo: Andrew Cornaga / Photosport / BackpagePix)

“We came here to be evaluated against the best teams in the world and England are on top of that group. So, the challenge is real. The coaching staff will have a look at them and decide on how we want to play and then pick a team accordingly. We are still in the competition, despite today’s disappointing result,” stated Raubenheimer.

Sequence of play

Fiji fired a warning shot as early as the fourth minute, when the Pacific islanders crossed the tryline.

Fortunately for the Springboks, the try was chalked off due to a forward pass in the build-up. The Boks did not heed that warning.

Eight minutes after the disappointment of having a try denied, the Pacific islanders found a way past the Springbok herd once more as Fiji wing Ilisapeci Delaiwau dotted down this time.

The South Africans could have headed into halftime with the scores tied after a fightback saw centre Zintle Mpupha score their opening try. 

However, on the cusp of halfway, Fijiana retook the lead through Akanisi Sokoiwasa, following some outstanding build-up play that caught the South Africans off guard.

Scores were then tied at 14-14 from the 60th until the 78th minute, before Libbie Janse van Rensburg edged her team ahead with a penalty goal. From then, the South Africans needed to keep the ball away from their opponents to ensure a scrappy victory. 

But they failed in this endeavour. Instead, Fiji regained possession in the restart and scored the winning try with less than a minute to play, shattering any hopes of the South Africans progressing to the knockout phase of the tournament.

“I’m disappointed. I’m extremely disappointed. Because this is a clash that we had hoped to show what we are capable of. They started quicker than us and took control of the game… They showed that they wanted to win. More than us,” conceded Bok skipper Nolusindiso Booi.

Fijian joy

Meanwhile, her counterpart Asinate Serevi described how significant the victory was for the Fijians. 

“It means the whole world to us, it’s crazy,” said Serevi. “It’s the biggest stage in the world and winning one game pretty much means winning the whole thing for us, for our team, for our country.”

Despite the disappointing result for South Africa, there was some joy for flyhalf Zenay Jordaan. She became the most-capped Springbok women’s player when she came on for her 35th Test cap after the break.

Meanwhile, Janse van Rensburg’s seven points from the boot saw her become the first SA women’s player to pass 100 Test points. Centre Mpupha extended her record as South Africa’s leading Test try scorer with her 17th five-pointer.

The Boks’ final pool encounter, against England, takes place on Sunday, 23 October. DM

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