The Blitzbok rugby sevens team have lost further ground to Fiji after they were beaten 21-17 by the Pacific Islanders in the final of the HSBC London Sevens on Sunday.
The result saw the current Olympic champions extend their HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series lead to eight points with one tournament left to play.
The Blitzboks can still retain their world crown at the HSBC Paris Sevens next weekend, where they are also the defending champions, but Neil Powell’s team would need to win the tournament and Fiji will have to be eliminated out of the Cup competition at the quarter-finals stage.
It’s an unlikely scenario as the Fijians have won the last four tournaments, in Vancouver, Hong Kong, Singapore and London.
Powell admitted that the defeat in the London final hurt, but he was still proud of his team. ‘We scored the same number of tries, but their better conversion rates got them the results the last couple of times we played them,’ said Powell.
‘After poor play on the first day, we turned it around on Sunday. We really improved and for that, I cannot fault the players. In fact, it was a performance I’m proud of despite losing in the final against Fiji, where we came so close.
‘I felt until the last play that we could still win it. The margins are so small. We like to say that we want to make the jersey proud and I think we did that today.’
Springbok Sevens captain Philip Snyman congratulated the Fijians: ‘We had our opportunities and did not use them. They did and well done to them, they are playing great rugby this season.’
Snyman said that although they only have an outside chance to defend their series title in Paris, the Blitzboks are determined to fight till the end: ‘It’s not over yet, we still have a chance and will not stop playing for this jersey till the very last play.’
In the final, both teams scored three tries apiece, but like the last time they played each other (in Singapore), the Fijians won due to successful conversions. Tries by Stedman Gans, Ruhan Nel and Zain Davids were not enough as Fiji’s ability to score from restarts proved decisive.
The Blitzboks opened the scoring via Gans, only for Fiji to draw level at 7-7, which was also the score at the break. The second half started with Fiji scoring their second converted try. Nel’s effort pulled the score back to two points (14-12), but from the restart, the Fijians got their final try, which proved the match-winner. Davids got one back to give his team a chance to snatch the win, but it was not to be.
The South African cause was not helped by losing Cecil Afrika and Branco du Preez, who suffered injuries on the first day, while they also lost Werner Kok early in the final against Fiji.
Earlier on Sunday, the Blitzboks beat New Zealand by 14-5 in the Cup quarter-finals and then England 29-19 in the semi-finals.
Kok, Snyman, Seabelo Senatla, Gans and Justin Geduld scored tries against England, while Geduld converted two. Against New Zealand, Ryan Oosthuizen and Dylan Sage scored tries, with Geduld converting both.
Sage was named in the Tournament Dream Team.
The top five teams on World Series log after nine tournaments are:
1 Fiji 167
2 South Africa 160
3 New Zealand 133
4 Australia 118
5 USA 105
The HSBC Paris Sevens will be played next weekend. The pools are:
Pool A: Fiji, New Zealand, Kenya, Samoa
Pool B: South Africa, Canada, Russia, Scotland
Pool C: Ireland, Australia, Wales, Spain
Pool D: England, USA, Argentina, France
Photo: Tournament winners Fiji, the Blitzboks and third-placed Ireland, by Tony Marshall/Getty Images for HSBC