By Gary Lemke
South Africa’s Sevens team made a dream start to their Olympic campaign when they won both their Pool B matches at the Deodora stadium, firstly keeping Spain scoreless (24-0) and then following that with a demolition job over France, winning 26-0.
Having scored within 90 seconds against Spain earlier in the day, South Africa were on the board even quicker against France, dotting down after 54 seconds following a barnstorming run by Kwagga Smith that had been continued by Cecil Afrika who passed inside to the unmarked Justin Geduld.
With temperatures still sitting at 28deg at 4.30 in the afternoon, the match had an understandably stop-start tempo to it, but most of the decisive running came from the South Africans.
They were strong in the tackle too where Kyle Brown stood firm and after one turnover had been created by the captain, the ball was fed to Smith who, inside his own 22m, jinked inside his man and then ran the rest of the length of the field and Afrika converted for 14-0.
Just before half-time Brown went over in the corner after Geduld had made the break and subsequent hard yards upfield with a chip and chase and from the next phase the ball got to Brown on the left and he crossed the whitewash to see his side 19-0 up at the interval and out of sight.
The second half was scrappy with plenty of stoppages and substitutes but with two minutes remaining Afrika broke down the left inside his own half and fed to Dylan Sage who bashed through a tackle and then ran in the try from 55m to swallow diver over under the posts. Afrika supplied the extra and South Africa had stretched the gap to 26-0.
Even as the final hooter sounded and France had the ball, South Africa refused to allow them through. Each time a French player would look for a gap or try to break a tackle there were two green and gold jerseys on him, wrapping him up or pushing him backwards.
It is this time of defensive commitment that coach Neil Powell has instilled in this team who top Pool B after two games, having scored 50 points without reply. They play Australia on Wednesday and will be confident of winning that, given the Australians lost 31-14 to France and managed to come from behind to beat Spain 24-12 in their two matches.
Sevens Rugby was making its Olympic debut – the last time it featured in the Games was in 1924, when the United States won gold – and the first men’s match of Rio 2016 was between Australia and France.
There were a couple of upsets on the first day, notably Japan’s 14-12 defeat of New Zealand and France’s 31-14 victory over Australia and South Africa were eager it not be a casualty as well.
Against Spain they were on the scoresheet within 90 seconds, thanks to Afrika and that 7-0 became 14-0 before the break with Afrika showing good feet to score the try and convert.
Seabelo Senatla showed why he’s the most feared man on the circuit when stretching his legs to race in at the left corner for his first Olympic try (19-0) and Philip Snyman got in on the act as well for 24-0. Afrika very nearly got his hat-trick but spilled the ball when over the line and that was that.
Afterwards Powell was satisfied with the result. ‘We always knew there’d be nerves and rustiness for that first game. The best thing was not conceding any tries against Spain because they are a dangerous team and they can make you pay. There are one or two things that we can do better – once or twice the ball didn’t go to hand and there was also some bunching in the defence.
’The tactic was to give everyone a run, so we used all five of our subs. The legs are always a bit heavy in the first game because of the nerves, so that was the plan, get everyone on the park and also get a positive result.’
Image of Cecil Africa courtesy Wessel Oosthuizen/SASPA