Sport

AFRICA SEVENS BECKONS

Blitzboks’ dismal season ends but Duarttee emerges as a star

Blitzboks’ dismal season ends but Duarttee emerges as a star
Dewald Human of South Africa breaks past Lucas Lacamp of USA during the Pool A match between South Africa and USA during Day One of the HSBC London Sevens at Twickenham Stadium on 20 May, 2023 in London, England. (Photo: Luke Walker/Getty Images)

The Springbok Sevens finished ninth in London this weekend to knock them out of automatic Olympic qualification — ending seventh overall on the Sevens Series standings. 

The Blitzboks will have to win their regional competition, the Rugby Africa Sevens Cup, to qualify for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games after a disappointing seventh-place overall finish on the Sevens Series standings. 

The Springbok Sevens finished ninth at the London Sevens — the 11th and final leg of the season. 

A top-two finish in London would have secured the Blitzboks direct qualification for the Olympic Games — after Australia finished seventh in the final leg. Instead, the Aussies secured the final automatic Olympic spot. 

London rounds out an all-round under par season for the Springbok Sevens — under the tutelage of Sandile Ngcobo and Philip Snyman for the first time — since Neil Powell’s departure from the helm in September last year. 

Injuries plagued South Africa throughout the season with Ronald Brown, Dewald Human, Shilton van Wyk and James Murphy missing crucial legs while stalwart Justin Geduld only returned in the final two legs in Toulouse and London — having been out for 15 months. 

The injuries forced Ngcobo to blood a number of youngsters — 0ne of whom has turned into a rare shining light this season. 

Playmaker Ricardo Duarttee has been a revelation for the Springbok Sevens since making his debut in Dubai at the end of last year — the only leg the Blitzboks won gold at this year. 

His excellent form was rewarded as Duarttee claimed the Rookie of the Year award at the annual World Rugby Sevens Series awards in London on Sunday evening.

The 25-year-old played in a total of 52 matches, scoring 15 tries, 67 conversions and one penalty for an incredible 212 points in his debut season.

Api Bavadra of Great Britain

Api Bavadra of Great Britain celebrates after scoring a try during the Pool A match between Great Britain and South Africa on Day One of the HSBC London Sevens at Twickenham Stadium on 20 May, 2023 in London, England. (Photo: Luke Walker/Getty Images)

Leaky defence

South Africa’s attack has still been at their game-breaking best in patches, exemplified by their season highlights of a gold medal showing in Dubai and silver medal return in Sydney earlier in the season.

However, an attribute the Blitzboks were renowned for in the past has lacked this season as they developed an uncharacteristic leaky defence.

“It’s been a very tough year for us, regardless of all the injuries, I don’t think we played to our full potential,” said assistant coach Snyman during a mid-match conversation with commentators in London.

“We used quite a few players — that’s the one positive — a lot of guys gained experience. But we’re definitely not happy with this weekend’s [performances].”

“We scored some nice tries [but] our one on one tackles let us down. Overall it’s a system thing, we need to look hard out ourselves. We need to go back and fix our mistakes.

“We don’t want to point any fingers. Everybody needs to look at themselves and see what we can do better as a system and as individuals, then come back stronger next season.”

London finish

South Africa started the final leg of the Sevens Series extremely poorly, failing to win all three of their pool stage matches on Saturday, losing to Great Britain (15-19), drawing to USA (26-26) and losing to New Zealand (32-31). 

The results meant South Africa failed to qualify for the quarter-final stage and were out of the reckoning for an automatic Olympic qualification spot.

However, the Blitzboks hit back with two strong performances on Sunday, beating Japan (29-7) and the USA (47-5) to clinch ninth spot in London.

“We are not happy at all, because this is not how we wanted to finish the season,” said Ngcobo.

“We’re very disappointed, but again, our actions will determine our character going forward and how badly we want to fix this, and to play like we’re Springbok Sevens players.”

While Ngcobo would have been happy with the performances on Sunday, he pointed out some shortcomings that ended up costing his team dearly on Saturday.

“We spoke about urgency and respecting our ball, which we did well at times, but the biggest thing was not finishing our opportunities,” he said.

“We’ve been relentless on attack — we score tries and take the lead in our matches — but then we don’t put our opponents away.

“We wanted to work on improving how we receive restarts and our speed to the breakdown, which we mostly got right, but we need to be more relentless because at this level, you only get a few opportunities.”

Pita Vi, Blitzboks

Pita Vi of USA breaks the line during the Pool A match between South Africa and USA during Day One of The HSBC London Sevens at Twickenham Stadium on 20 May, 2023 in London, England. (Photo: Luke Walker/Getty Images)

Positive finish 

With the pressure of Olympic qualification off their shoulders, South Africa began to express themselves on Sunday.

They looked composed and scored five tries against the Japanese team, with Ronald Brown grabbing a first-half brace.

Impi Visser also scored before the break to help the Blitzboks to a 17-7 lead, with Brown’s second try coming late after Japan lost a player to the sin-bin.

Shaun Williams went over early in the second half but he lost the ball over the line, however, a minute later Christie Grobbelaar made no mistake after a good chip from Mfundo Ndhlovu. Travis Ismaiel had the last say with his second try for the Blitzboks in only his fifth tournament.

Against the USA, they stepped up a gear and scored seven tries, with Grobbelaar grabbing a brace.

Van Wyk and Ndhlovu crossed the whitewash early in the match, while Grobbelaar and Ryan Oosthuizen also added their names to the score sheet in the first half as the Blitzboks took a 28-0 lead.

Brown, Grobbelaar and Justin Geduld scored after the break before the USA got a consolation try late in the match.

New Zealand, who lost to Samoa in the bronze medal match, were crowned World Series winners for 2023, while Argentina beat Fiji by 35-14 in the Cup final in London.

The five teams that qualified for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris are New Zealand, who finished the season on 200 points, Argentina (179 points), Fiji (156 points), hosts France (151 points), and Australia (133 points). Samoa finished sixth (132 points) and South Africa seventh (120 points). DM

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