6 April 2009
The South African Sevens rugby team successfully defended its IRB Sevens Series Adelaide title on the weekend, thus establishing an almost unassailable lead in the series standings. In a first ever all-African final, South Africa beat Kenya 26-7 to take the honours.
The victory by Paul Treu’s charges leaves them on 104 points, 28 clear of England, who are in second place on 76 points. Fiji, in third, are only two points behind England, on 74 points. Argentina occupy fifth place, on 68 points.
Last year’s champions, New Zealand, are out of the running for the 2008/09 title. They languish in fifth place, on 64 points, just two points clear of Kenya, who have emerged as a team capable of beating any other team on the circuit.
Indeed, the Kenyans beat South Africa 15-14, with a late try in their pool match, to finish top of the pool. South Africa had cruised past the Cook Islands by 28 points to seven in their opening match and then crushed Japan 43-0.
The loss to Kenya left SA with a quarterfinal showdown against New Zealand, who had beaten Wales 24-10, Tonga 33-0, and the USA 27-5 to finish on top of Pool C.
In the quarterfinals, the New Zealanders were kept scoreless by strong defence from South Africa. Meanwhile, Renfred Dazel, Mzwandile Stick and Lionel Mapoe scored tries for SA as they triumphed 17-0.
Kenya had little problem with Wales, recording an emphatic 33-14 win, while Fiji – the winner of the previous tournament in Hong Kong, where they edged South Africa 24-23 in the final – thrashed England 40-0. Hosts Australia gave Argentina a tough game, but eventually went down by 12 points to five.
In the semi-finals, Kenya built up a 12-0 half-time lead and then shared the spoils in the second half as they dumped Argentina 17-5 to book their place in the final. It marked the first time in their history that they had reached a Cup final.
In the other semi-final, it was a rematch of the Hong Kong final. Fiji were first on the board through a try by Nasoni Roko, but Lionel Mapoe replied with two tries for South Africa, both converted, to put SA 14-5 in front.
A unconverted try by Vereniki Goneva pulled the Fijians to within four points, but Vuyo Zangqa ensured South Africa would progress to the title-deciding game with the team’s third converted try, thus making the final score 21-10.
That meant South Africa faced a Kenyan team that had beaten them 15-14 earlier in the tournament for the Cup. They had also scored a 22-17 win over SA in Wellington; it would take a solid and disciplined performance to stifle the free-flowing running of Kenya.
As the teams ran onto the field, the majority of the vociferous Adelaide crowd was behind the underdog Kenyans, who were chasing their first ever Cup title. South Africa, however, quickly gave their supporters plenty to cheer when Robert Ebersohn side-stepped his way to an early try.
Kenya hit back through captain Humphrey Kayange and the successful conversion levelled the scores at 7-7. Vuyo Zangqa then weaved his way through the Kenyan defence and his goaled try put South Africa seven points clear at 14-7.
Just before half-time Kenya had a lucky let-off when SA won a penalty in the middle of the field, on the Kenyan 22-metre line. Captain Mpho Mbiyozo told Renfred Dazel to kick at goal when a try from the ideal attacking position would have put Kenya under huge pressure. Dazel missed and the teams turned at 14-7 in South Africa’s favour and the contest very much in the balance.
Kenya attacked fiercely after the break, but South Africa defended exceptionally – isolating the man with the ball, getting numbers to the man, and then preventing him releasing the ball, which resulted in a number of turnovers of possession.
Paul Treu’s charges then put one hand on the trophy when Ryno Benjamin crossed for South Africa’s third try. He sprinted from left to right across the Kenyan 22-metre area, showed the ball as if for a switch inside to the man on right – which was enough to cause the defenders hesitate – and then dived over in the right hand corner.
With time running out, Renfred Dazel put the icing on the case with a well-judged chip and chase, which saw him gather the ball over the Kenyan try-line and dot down.
With only tournaments in London and Edinburgh remaining, South Africa will be almost impossible to catch in the standings.
If they finish on top of the table, it will be a first ever overall title for South Africa.
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