SA crowned London Sevens champs

23 May 2011

South Africa produced an excellent tactical display in beating favourites Fiji 24-14 to win the Emirates Airline London Sevens title before a crowd of more than 50 000 fans at Twickenham on Sunday evening.

Previously, South Africa won the tournament in 2005. Before their victory on Saturday, there had been six different winners in the past six years in London.

Fiji, with a revamped squad and new coaching staff, were expected to win after they swept aside new HSBC Sevens World Series champions New Zealand 42-19 in the semi-finals and also beat the Springbok Sevens 12-7 on Saturday evening in their last group match.

A different story

The Cup final was, however, a different story altogether. Fiji raced into a two-try lead from the start, but South Africa stuck to their game plan to frustrate their bigger opponents around the fringes by denying them open space from where they are so dangerous.

It was South Africa’s third Cup final appearance in their last four tournaments and their second Cup win of the season after they also captured the USA title in Las Vegas. Their London success moved them one position up the Series leader board to third, with 116 points.

New Zealand (150 points) was crowned Series champions after England (121) failed to make the Cup play-offs.

Sensational start

In the final, Fiji made a sensational start when they scored a brilliant length-of-the-field try, with Watisoni Votu scoring under the posts after several sublime offloads. Minutes later, Fiji doubled their lead when Livai Ikanikoda scored from what appeared an offside position.

Tries from Boom Prinsloo and Bernado Botha brought South Africa within touching distance of Fiji. Botha then scored a very well constructed try to give South Africa the lead at 17-14. Steven Hunt dotted down South Africa’s fourth try after a drive at the Fijian line.

‘Proud’

A delighted Paul Treu, the SA Sevens coach, praised the decision-making of his team: “We never panicked when we fell behind and I’m proud that we stuck to our game plan.

“We knew we had to frustrate Fiji, to deny them space, and to make them work for the ball. They are their best when counter-attacking and we could not afford to give them any space at all.

“You cannot play them on the touchlines, because if you do that you chase them all day long. Our physical strength at the breakdown was the deciding factor and the guys showed great courage and character.

“We still have one more tournament to go in Scotland and our job is by no means over,” concluded Treu.

‘Character and belief’

Kyle Brown, the Springbok Sevens captain, said his side’s tactics were spot on: “This was a huge effort and the guys showed character and belief, especially after we made two mistakes early on which allowed them to score. We managed to pull ourselves together and knew that we had the courage and determination to succeed.

“You just cannot give those guys space to move and, thankfully, we managed to get our first-time tackling spot on, which proved vital in the end,” said Brown.

Interviewed by the International Rugby Board, Brown said: “[I’m] very, very proud of the guys. The way they’ve stepped up this season, they keep moving forward and improving their performance every time we go out onto the park.

“You know, it didn’t start off as we wanted it to this weekend, but that’s the Series, it’s getting tougher and tougher every single year. But they stuck to their guns and in the final we had a plan, we stuck to it, and it paid off in the end.”

Semi-finals

South Africa was made to work hard for their place in the final by Wales. They scraped through 21-19 in the semi-finals against the 2009 Sevens World Cup winners after leading 14-0 at the break, thanks to tries from Boom Prinsloo and Bernado Botha.

Wales hit back after the restart with tries from Jevon Groves and Alex Cuthbert. Prinsloo then scored the crucial third try for the Springbok Sevens, who were made to fight all the way for their victory after Kristian Phillips scored in the corner for Wales.

Earlier, in the quarterfinals, a brace from Cecil Afrika and another try from Botha secured a 17-0 victory over Australia.

Winners

Samoa beat last year’s champions Australia 22-12 in the Plate final, while Scotland edged Kenya 21-19 to lift the Bowl. England claimed the Shield with a 22-7 victory over Portugal.

Although New Zealand clinched the Series title in London, there is plenty to play for in Edinburgh, with places two to five not yet decided.

England are in second place on 121 points, with South Africa, after their maximum haul of 24 in London, on 116. Last year’s champions Samoa follow on 112, with Fiji on 110.

SA Rugby and SAinfo reporter