Blitzboks suffer 2024 Olympic Games setback after defeat to Kenya in Zimbabwe qualifier
The Springbok Sevens failed at their second qualification opportunity when they slumped to a surprise 17-12 defeat to Kenya’s Shujaa in the final of the Rugby Africa Olympic Games 2024 qualifying tournament on Sunday.
The Blitzboks suffered a close-fought 17-12 defeat to Kenya in the final of the Rugby Africa Olympic Games 2024 qualifying tournament in Harare, Zimbabwe, on Sunday and in the process, missed a second opportunity to qualify for next year’s global showpiece in Paris.
Instead, Kenya became the ninth men’s team to confirm its participation at next year’s Games.
This is South Africa’s second failed attempt at direct qualification for the Paris Olympic Games following their failure to finish in the top four of the World Sevens Series standings this past season.
New Zealand, Argentina, Fiji and Australia sealed those spots while France qualified as hosts.
Meanwhile, Uruguay, Ireland, USA and now Kenya qualified for the Games through regional continental tournaments.
The Blitzboks will have one last chance to shoot out for the Games — if clearance is given by South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) — in a 12-team Olympic repechage tournament taking place in June next year in Monaco where there is one last qualification berth up for grabs.
The Springbok Sevens have a strong history at the Olympic Games, having clinched a bronze medal in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 — the first time the sport was introduced to the Games — before finishing fifth in Tokyo in 2020.
For this reason, head coach Sandile Ngcobo believes Sascoc could be persuaded to send his team to the repechage tournament.
“We have a good record at the Olympics, so this hurt even more knowing that we are medal contenders, but sadly we did not show that in that final game,” he said.
“This team can be gold medal contenders, we showed that at the Commonwealth Games last year, but we just could not put it together on Sunday when it mattered most and that was very disappointing.”
South Africa have been on a torrid run of form since the Sydney leg of the Sevens World Series in January this year — where they picked up a silver medal but it was also the last time they reached the podium in the final seven legs of the World Series.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Rugby World Cup 2023
The Blitzboks had a strong squad for the tournament at the Harare Sports Club. Returning stalwart Rosko Specman, World Rugby Sevens Series rookie of the year Ricardo Duarttee as well as playmakers Justin Geduld and Ronald Brown were part of the talented cohort.
South Africa thumped Ivory Coast, Tunisia and Madagascar, on day one of the tournament — scoring 120 points while conceding only 14.
After their clean sweep on Saturday to top Pool A, the South Africans managed to outplay Nigeria (27-0) and Uganda (26-14) in the quarter- and semifinals respectively, but they ran out of steam in the final against Kenya.
Shujaa scored first in the final, following some sloppy defence by the Blitzboks, but Selvyn Davids struck back from the restart to dot down in the corner.
Christie Grobbelaar then scored following a long-range run, with Duarttee’s conversion handing the Blitzboks a 12-7 lead at halftime.
The second half was tense, but two tries in the final two minutes not only handed the Kenyans the lead, but also the win and a plane ticket to Paris.
“It was a really disappointing finish to a tournament we prepared extremely hard for,” Ngcobo said.
“To lose like this after having played some very clinical and well executed rugby in the build-up to the final is a very hard pill to swallow.
“We always aim to make South Africa proud and to come to this Olympic qualifier and fall short is extremely disappointing. We need to become better at converting the hard work we put in to get the results that should come with it.
“We will now begin preparations for the HSBC SVNS Series that starts in December, then ready ourselves for the repechage where we have a last chance to qualify to go to Paris, if we are granted the opportunity and can get the job done.” DM