And so it came to an end… 11 days of frenetic Commonwealth Games sporting action that saw Team South Africa finally end sixth on the medals table and an improvement from Glasgow, Scotland four years ago, writes MARK ETHERIDGE on the Gold Coast, Australia.
South Africa started the Games with gold on day one from Henri Schoeman in the men’s individual triathlon but they ended Sunday’s final day empty-handed when both the men’s and women’s rugby sevens sides failed to add to the tally.
To be honest, the women’s side were never expected to medal as new coach Paul Delport is still finding his feet and needs to gel with the squad – but the men were a different story.
Many thought the fact that they ‘only’ won bronze at the Rio Olympics two years ago could be interpreted as a failure but here on the Gold Coast, they were defending the title they won in Glasgow four years ago.
Sure, they were missing key players in Seabelo Senatla and Kwagga Smith, but this proud bunch of souls will be hurting (and badly) at failing to win a medal of any colour.
They had breezed past Malaysia and Papua New Guinea and shrugged off Scotland in their pool matches. Then they came up against nemesis Fiji in the semi-finals and despite a comeback that Lazarus would have been proud off, they were beaten in extra-time, 19-24.
The bronze medal play-off against England saw them looking like certain medallists as they lead 14-0 at the break through tries by Branco du Preez and Ruhan Nel, both good scores with the former picking up a pass from his toes and the latter picking a gap in the English defence to dot down under the posts.
But from the second-half, England looked the more determined side, scoring within 23 seconds of the restart.
Midway through the half and the Blitzoks again gifted the ball to England and were lucky that speedster Dan Norton was stopped metres from the line.
Under three minutes to go and the ball was given away again to England from a South African throw-in at the line-out and suddenly the scores were locked at 14-14.
The final nail in the Blitzbok and Team South Africa’s coffin came with 80 seconds to play as, after another line-out, captain Tom Mitchell received a ball from a line-out and ran around the Blitzbok defence for a 21-14 victory.
But when the dust settled at the Robina Stadium, and although the Rugby Sevens sides went home empty-handed, Team South Africa have once punched above their weight at these Games.
They may not have quite matched their medal tally in Glasgow but more importantl,y they have improved their position on the medals table.
In Glasgow, they won 40 medals (13 gold, 10 silver and 17 bronze). Here they also won 13 golds, increased the silver count to 11 but won four less bronze medals than in Scotland.
Going into the final day they were fifth in the table but with rugby sevens (the only sport with SA participation on the day) they slipped behind rivals New Zealand to finish sixth, one spot better than four years ago.
The women’s rugby sevens side wrapped up their Games campaign with a loss to Fiji and Wales on Sunday.
New coach Delport’s side went down to Fiji by a 40-12 margin for their fourth consecutive loss of the Games.
Earlier they’d lost to Canada, New Zealand and Kenya, the first two countries ranked in the top four of women’s sevens rugby.
If there’s a silver lining on the loss, it’s that the women’s side scored their most points in their final game, after being whitewashed by Canada and New Zealand and then getting 10 points against Kenya in their final pool game.
The South Africans, who opened the scoring as early as the 31st second at the Robina Stadium on a hot Sunday morning, were down 19-7 at halftime and scored another unconverted try in the second half.
Try scorer on both occasions was Mathrin Simmers, formerly from Knysna, but now based at the Sevens Academy in Stellenbosch. Her first-half try was converted by captain Zintle Mphupha.
In the other 5-8th place play-off Kenya beat Wales 14-12.
In their last game, the SA women went down to Wales in the battle for the seventh-eighth spot. They lost 14-19, for their highest points tally at the Games with Veroeshka Grain and Nadine Roos scoring tries.
Photo: The dejected South African side after missing out on a medal and Simmers scoring against Fiji both courtesy of Mark Kolbe/Getty Images