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Blitzboks end third in Canada and still lead Series

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The Blitzboks rugby sevens team took third spot in the HSBC Canada Sevens in Vancouver in the early hours of Sunday morning (SA time) after being beaten by Fiji in the quarter-finals and beating the US in the third-place playoff.

That follows two runners-up spots by South Africa in 2016 and last year.

The podium finish helped South Africa maintain their overall lead in the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series although Fiji, who won in Vancouver, has closed the gap slightly on the Blitzboks.

The Blitzboks arrived in Vancouver with a 10-point advantage over New Zealand in second place, but now lead Fiji by eight points, following the two North American legs of the World Series.

South Africa has 109 points, followed by Fiji (101), New Zealand (92) and Australia (84). The remaining tournaments are in Hong Kong, Singapore, London and Paris.

Springbok Sevens coach, Neil Powell, said there a number of positives that came out of the tournament. ‘We have very high standards and there were times when we did not achieve that. We did play very well at times and especially the comeback against Australia was very pleasing. I thought we were out of it, to be honest. But the guys kept their composure.’

Powell was forced to face Fiji without the injured Ruhan Nel, meaning replacement player Marco Labuschagne came into the team.

‘Against Fiji we had the opportunity to beat them, but didn’t, so that is something we need to get better at. Against teams like that, you get that one chance and you must use it. Against the USA, it was the ideal opportunity to give the younger guys a chance and they responded very well. There were mistakes made, but that is how you learn and I was impressed by their efforts.’

The Blitzboks outplayed the US 29-7 in the bronze final. The Americans scored in the opening minute when Malon Al-Jiboori dotted down for a converted try, but then South Africa took control. Zain Davids, Stedman Gans and Siviwe Soyizwapi scored in quick succession to give them a 19-7 lead at the break. A brace by Ryan Oosthuizen then extended that lead to a winning total.

The semi-final against Fiji was decided in the last play of the match when South Africa lost the ball while going over the line for the winning try. The Blitzboks opened the scoring with a try by Philip Snyman, but that was cancelled out by Fiji scoring from the restart.

Dylan Sage, however, ran strongly down the touchline to score his fourth try of the tournament, which then gave South Africa a 12-5 lead at the break. Two tries in the second half by Fiji saw them leading 15-12, but unfortunately, South Africa lost the ball in the last play of the match.

Sage had a very strong tournament, not only scoring the most tries (four) but also making the most tackles. Sage (18), Branco du Preez (17) and Cecil Afrika (16) were the leading defenders. Overall, South Africa made the most tackles at the tournament (136).

They also lead the series in tackles made this far (744) and lead the try-scoring stakes (148 tries) with Australia (139) and Fiji (137) next best.

Key stats:
– Branco du Preez kicked 13 conversions and scored 26 points in Vancouver to extend his South African mark for career conversions to 371, 10th on the all-time world list.
– Cecil Afrika extended his national record for points scored in the World Series to 1395, fourth on the all-time world list.

The top six teams in the World Series standings are:
1 South Africa 109
2 Fiji 101
3 New Zealand 92
4 Australia 84
5 Argentina 77
6 USA 73

Picture of Muller du Plessis of South Africa getting to grips with Nick Boyer of the United States in the bronze medal game courtesy of Ben Nelms/Getty Images


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