8 December 2008
The home crowd got what they wanted as South Africa captured the IRB Sevens Series title in George on the weekend, winning the South African Sevens for the first time in 10 tries as they notched up back-to-back sevens titles for the first time.
Victory came after a tremendous tussle with sevens giants New Zealand, the two-time defending George champions.
The Kiwis, who were also the runaway winners of last season’s IRB Sevens Series, dictated matters early in the final and were rewarded when captain DJ Forbes crashed over for a try. A successful conversion put the New Zealanders 7-0 ahead.
With half-time approaching, a piece of fast footwork saw the speedy Gio Aplon break the New Zealand defensive line. He drew the sweeper before passing out to Renfred Dazel on his left. Dazel hit the gas and had just enough to go over in the left-hand corner for a try.
SA skipper Mzwandile Stick was unable to convert from the sideline, leaving South Africa 5-7 behind at the interval.
In the second half, the home team upped their intensity, putting the well-organised Kiwi defence under pressure. A kick by impressive teenager Robert Ebersohn found Aplon in a scoring position, but he knocked on over the try line.
As time ran down, the breakthrough came for South Africa when a ball flew out from a scrum and Stick was the fastest to react. Gathering the ball, he knifed through a gap next to the scrum and dived over for a try near the uprights. The crowd, already electric, yelled its approval.
Stick then converted his own try to put South Africa 12-7 ahead. There was still some time left to play, however, and fortunes in sevens can be reversed in an instant. It was far from game over.
Ebersohn tried to take South Africa more than two scores ahead with a drop goal attempt, after a superb break by Stick, but he was narrowly wide of the mark.
With less than a minute to go the Kiwis regained possession, but SA turned possession over at a ruck – one of the most impressive aspects of South Africa’s play all tournament – and when Paul Delport booted the ball into touch, coach Paul Treu’s charges had won the Cup title for the second week in succession.
Player of the Tournament
Adding an extra sparkle to South Africa’s victory was the choice of Robert Ebersohn as Player of the Tournament. Despite recently being voted South Africa’s Young Player of the Year, he has opted to throw his lot in with the sevens team instead of the Cheetahs’ Super 14 side. Right now, it looks as if his decision was the right one.
Coach Paul Treu told the International Rugby Board’s website: “I’m almost speechless; 10 years is a long time and it really took a massive effort from our players.”
Treu, who played his provincial rugby for South Western Districts in George, also paid tribute to the South African team’s supporters: “It was the first time ever that we’ve seen such a big support for the team, and you could feel it in the air, the people, their body language, they really wanted this team to win, and we’ve really drawn a lot of energy from the crowd.
‘We couldn’t have done it without you’
“I really want to thank the people that came out and supported the team over the past two days, and also the people back at home watching the tournament, we couldn’t have done it without you,” he added.
After their two wins in Dubai and George, South Africa tops the IRB Sevens Series standings with the maximum possible haul of 40 points. New Zealand is in second place on 28 points, followed by England and Fiji, who both have 24.
South Africa reached the final with an impressive 21-7 win over Fiji, thanks to an outstanding first half in which they built up a 21-0 cushion. New Zealand, meanwhile, conceded a try to Argentina and then proceeded to dominate the rest of their showdown to run out 26-5 victors.
Zimbabwe secured a popular victory in the Shield competition. They destroyed Tunisia 40-5 in the semi-finals and then ran roughshod over Scotland 26-0 in the final.
France, who like Zimbabwe, improved significantly as the tournament progressed, defeated Australia 21-12 to win the Bowl.
England claimed the Plate with a 24-7 win over Portugal, who impressed with their passionate play and surprised a number of more highly regarded teams before bowing out in the Cup quarterfinals.
The IRB Sevens Series resumes on the weekend of 6-7 February 2009 in Wellington, New Zealand, where the home side will be desperate to win in front of their fellow Kiwis. The following weekend the Series moves to San Diego.
Following the tournament in the USA, there is a return for South Africa to Dubai for the IRB Rugby World Cup Sevens 2009, which doesn’t form part of the IRB Sevens Series, but as a World Cup is hugely prestigious.
South Africa have won the Dubai Sevens on three previous occasions – 2003, 2006, and 2008 – and will hope their success in the UAE continues in the World Cup.
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