9 December 2013
Backed by a 32 000-strong crowd, the Springbok Sevens team scored an emotional 17-14 victory over New Zealand in the final of the Nelson Mandela Bay Sevens in Port Elizabeth on Sunday.
In a stadium bearing the name of the recently deceased and much-loved former president Nelson Mandela, the crowd helped lift the Blitzbokke out of an early 0-14 deficit and on to a deserved victory, which they dedicated to the iconic statesman.
Throughout the event, the South African team’s defence had been ironclad, while the side was also very effective on the attack. In the final, the team’s aggressive defence carried them to the title as New Zealand, after their two early tries, were kept pinned in their half.
Branco du Preez brought South Africa to within two points of the Kiwis at the break by using his fast feet to cross for two tries and after the break, captain Kyle Brown crossed for the match-winning five-pointer.
His winning score came after the Blitzbokke had forced New Zealand to kick for touch from their own try line. After claiming the throw-in on the 22, Brown, instead of passing back to the scrumhalf, spun towards the sideline, handing off a would-be tackler and ducking beneath a second tackle, to find his way to the try line open.
Still, South Africa led by only three points. New Zealand, though, could not escape the pressure of the Springboks’ suffocating defence and the Blitzbokke provided coach Neil Powell with his first win since he took charge of the team at the beginning of the HSBC World Series.
‘We needed to be close’
“We needed to be close to New Zealand at the break, so when we scored late in the first half, it meant a lot to the guys,” Powell said after the game.
“It is an unbelievable feeling. Credit to the guys in the squad. I think they showed a lot of character out there tonight and I’m really proud of each and every one of them, and the management as well.”
Powell said “Madiba Magic” helped his team to the title. “It was a very emotional weekend for all South Africans,” he said,” but we realised that we needed to do it for his memory and for ourselves. We could only do it by playing as a team and playing for each other.”
‘We had to dig deep’
Springbok Sevens captain Kyle Brown praised his team mates for their special effort. “We were all desperate for a good result and knew that we had to do this as a team. We had to dig deep to come back, but I never doubted the character and will to win,” he said.
“This is a special win and we cannot thank the crowd enough for their support. It was also important for us to keep improving and following our fourth place at the Gold Coast and second spot in Dubai, a win here justified the hard work the squad has put into training.”
The Blitzbokke comfortably topped their pool on the first day of the event, defeating Canada 24-7, Spain 38-0 and Kenya 27-7.
On day two, they were in scintillating form, thrashing Portugal 45-0 in the quarterfinals and Argentina 31-0 in the semi-finals before edging the Kiwis, whose closest game before the final had been a 19-5 win over Samoa in the semi-finals.
New Zealand continue to top the World Series standings with 58 points, but their lead over South Africa is down to only two points. Fiji are in third place with 48 points and England are fourth on the log with 40 points.