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Springbok Women’s Sevens have a strong start to Challenger Series in Stellenbosch

Springbok Women’s Sevens have a strong start to Challenger Series in Stellenbosch
Ayanda Malinga of South Africa during the match between South Africa and Czechia on day one of the World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series 2023 on 20 April in Stellenbosch. (Photo: Roger Sedres / Gallo Images)

South Africa followed a disappointing draw against Czechia with a thumping beating of Mexico in their opening matches of the Sevens Challenger Series on Thursday.

The Springbok Women’s Sevens started the first day of the Sevens Challenger Series on a slow note, drawing 7-7 to Czechia before coming back strongly in their second encounter, defeating Mexico 36-0.

South Africa’s quest to become part of the World Sevens Series started early on Thursday morning at a rainy Stellenbosch against Czechia at the Sevens Challenger Series.

The winner of the 12-team women’s tournament will gain direct entry into next season’s World Sevens Series.

South Africa broke the deadlock early against the passionate Czechia thanks to a well-worked try by Simamkele Namba on the B-field at the Markötter Stadium.

The try was tidily converted by Eloise Webb. Czechia built a few quality phases for the first time in the match, in the second half, before dotting down under the posts and tying up the game.

With seconds left on the clock, the hard-running Namba broke free and released speedster Ayanda Malinga to dot down and seal the game for the Women’s Sevens team.

Ayanda Malinga of South Africa in the Women’s Pool E match between South Africa and Mexico during day one of the World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series 2023 at Markotter Stadium on 20 April 2022 in Stellenbosch, South Africa. (Photo: Grant Pitcher / Gallo Images)

Eloise Webb of South Africa in the Women’s Pool E match between South Africa and Mexico during day one of the World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series 2023 at Markotter Stadium on 20 April 2022 in Stellenbosch, South Africa. (Photo: Grant Pitcher / Gallo Images)

Try disallowed 

But after deliberation between the referee and the assistant referee, it was decided that Namba ran an obstructive line while in support of Malinga, and the try was subsequently disallowed.

Czechia kicked the ball out from the penalty they were awarded as the final whistle went and celebrated jubilantly while several Springbok Sevens players were on their haunches in disappointment.

Where South Africa left opportunities on the field in their opening match, they took every single one in their second, dismantling Mexico 26-0 at half time.

They dotted down two more tries in the second, while sealing their defence shut to finish 36-0 victors.

The drier conditions in their afternoon match made conditions more suitable for faster, running rugby, which complemented South Africa.

Mathrin Simmers (2), Eloise Webb, Simamkele Namba, Ayanda Malinga and Nadine Roos all got on the scoresheet for the home side.

Mathrin Simmers (co-captain) of South Africa in the Women’s Pool E match between South Africa and Mexico during day one of the World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series 2023 at Markotter Stadium on 20 April 2022 in Stellenbosch, South Africa. (Photo: Grant Pitcher / Gallo Images)

Nadine Roos (c) of South Africa during the match between Spain and South Africa on day two of the HSBC Cape Town Sevens at DHL Stadium on 10 December 2022 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo: Ashley Vlotman / Gallo Images)

Namba the superstar 

Namba was once again the star, showing excellent strength in contact, deceptive pace after breaking the line as well as displaying excellently timed passes.

“Namba is a superstar. My nickname for her is ‘Lion Heart’ because she gives everything, she doesn’t leave anything out there. She works hard, she makes tackles, she plays, she runs,” said Springbok Women’s Sevens head coach Renfred Dazel, after the match against Mexico.

“For me, Namba is key for how we’re going to play over this weekend.

“I’m happy with today’s results. We were a little bit disappointed by the 7-7 draw against Czechia, but looking at the weather, it becomes 50/50 for either team,” added Dazel.

“As a team, we at times didn’t play to our standards, but in the second game against Mexico there was more energy and intensity on the ball and more structured play. That’s why we came out on top.”

Good preparation

South Africa had three-months preparation for the Challenger Series – much longer than they usually do – and it showed on the field in their match against Mexico.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Imbokodo embrace underdog tag for Rugby World Cup Sevens

The Springbok Sevens Women were organised and patient in defence while remaining incisive and ruthless in attack, snipping through the tiniest gap their South American opponents left ajar.

“The big difference between this squad and the one that played in Cape Town [at the World Series, as an invitational side] last December is the amount of preparation we had for this,” said Dazel.

“Last time around, we had a week to prepare for the Dubai Invitational, which was followed a week later by the Cape Town tournament.”

“To add to our woes then, we lost Mathrin, Sizo and Eloise due to injuries in Dubai and they could not play in Cape Town.”

But South Africa now have a host of experienced players back in Stellenbosch, including co-captains Simmers and Zintle Mpupha, as well as 15s star flyhalf Libbie Janse van Rensburg. 

Sizophila Solontsi of South Africa in the Women’s Pool E match between South Africa and Mexico during day 1 of the World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series 2023 at Markotter Stadium on 20 April 2022 in Stellenbosch, South Africa. (Photo: Grant Pitcher / Gallo Images)

Thai win

South Africa later thumped Thailand – headed by former coach Paul Delport – 29-12 in the quarterfinals of the Challenger Series on Friday.

They will now face China in the first semifinal on Saturday.

Earlier in the day, team South Africa picked up where they left off on the first day of the Challenger Sevens Series on Friday, with a hard-fought 14-5 win over Madagascar.

The result meant South Africa topped group E, after their 7-7 draw to Czechia, and beating Mexico 36-0 on Thursday.

Thailand – coached by former Springbok Sevens Women’s coach Paul Delport – were surprise quarterfinalists after strong showings on day one.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Paul Delport quits as Bok Women’s Sevens coach, citing SA Rugby’s ‘unwillingness to invest’ in player development

Ayanda Malinga was the star of the quarters, completing a hattrick in the first half.

“We wanted to prove something; even though he left, we’re still improving,” said Malinga about playing against a team coached by Delport for the first time.

Eloise Webb set up Malinga’s first try with a well-timed interception, before releasing the lightning winger. The second try came through excellent interplay between co-skipper Mathrin Simmers, Webb and Malinga, who finished well in the corner.

Shortly after, South Africa had a scrum five metres from Thailand’s tryline, which Nadine Roos picked up, drew two defenders and unleashed the lethal Malinga for her third, as South Africa took a 17-0 lead into halftime.

But inspired by an encouraging speech by their coach, Thailand came back fighting in the second stanza, scoring two quick tries to take the score to 17-12.

But South Africa showed their experience as co-captain Zintle Mpupha restored parity with a barnstorming run from her own 22-metre line to score next to the uprights.

Marlize de Bruyn sealed the victory after the hooter – by collecting a Libbe Janse van Rensburg grubber – to take the score to 29-12.

“I’m excited just thinking about the finals tomorrow; we worked really hard for three months,” said Malinga.

“We’re all on the same page. We want to qualify, we want to play on the World Series circuit. Our minds are set to play at that level.”

Madagascar knocked out

Earlier in the day, South Africa sealed their passage to the knockout phase of the tournament with a 14-5 victory over Madagascar in their final group stage match.

Madagascar pushed South Africa close in their opening encounter, with their fast, scrappy play, but the Boks shouldered up on defence to restrict the Island nation to only one try.

All the points were scored in the first half, with neither team able to break through the tireless defence from either side.

Mpupha put in a resolute performance on attack and defence, and was awarded with a try after a trademark powerful run.

De Bruyn scored South Africa’s other try after being put into space by playmaker Roos, before burning her opposite number on the wing and dotting down under the posts. DM

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