The Blitzboks suffered a bloodied nose at the hands of Australia on Wednesday, and must shake off their inconsistency if they want to be serious gold medal contenders at the Rio Olympics.
The Springbok Sevens went down 12-5 in a surprise defeat to Australia in their final Pool B clash at the Deodoro Stadium, but fortunately for captain Kyle Brown and his team, they still topped their group due to a superior points difference.
The competition rules strangely award a single log point to every losing team, no matter what the margin of defeat is, which resulted in South Africa, France and Australia all finishing up on seven points.
But the Blitzboks ended with a points difference of +43, with France on +12 and Australia +4 after the French beat Spain 26-5 earlier on Wednesday.
The Bok Sevens’ quarter-final will take place at 11.30pm SA time on Wednesday, where they will take on the best third-placed team across the three pools. Australia have a strong chance of making at as they are on seven points and have a positive points difference, but anyone of New Zealand, Great Britain, Argentina, Fiji or USA could end up as one of the two third-placed qualifiers.
It all depends on the last group games that are being played out in the morning session in Rio, with Japan the only other team to secure their passage to the quarter-finals after beating Kenya 31-7.
Blitzbok coach Neil Powell opted to keep heavy hitters such as Brown, Cheslin Kolbe, Cecil Afrika, Juan de Jongh and Werner Kok all on the bench and it came back to bite him as the Aussies showed much greater urgency with ball-in-hand.
The South Africans’ lack of intensity may have been due to the fact that they had already qualified for the playoffs before the match started following France’s win over Spain.
But the Blitzboks made a number of handling errors and lacked any rhythm on the day, with Australia finding holes in the Bok Sevens’ defence all over the field.
Playmaker James Stannard used the grubber to good effect to get in behind the Blitzboks, and after a sparkling run by teenaged speedster Henry Hutchison, Stannard’s kick created the opportunity that saw Jesse Parahi open the scoring.
Powell’s team battled to string together any meaningful passing movements, while their lineout-throwing was again off the mark.
Disaster then struck just before halftime when a flowing attack from distance saw Tom Cusack finish off smartly to put Australia 12-0 ahead at the break.
The Blitzboks responded by throwing on Kolbe and De Jongh to spice up their attack, and the tactic worked as Seabelo Senatla – who hardly got the ball during the game – having enough pace to round off a much smoother passage of play.
But despite a piece of individual brilliance in defence by Senatla, who made a tackle from behind and immediately got back up to win a breakdown penalty, the Blitzboks strangely opted to run the ball from their own 10m line instead of finding touch inside the Australians’ half.
That decision saw Stannard win his own ruck penalty near the halfway line – which resulted in him getting a cut on his head that had the blood flowing, but it was worth the effort.
South Africa actually won a scrum from the resultant lineout, but the Aussies again proved that they wanted it more as they clinched another breakdown penalty to seal the deal.
They will have to wait for the results of the other pool games to see if they can qualify for the quarter-finals as one of the two best third-placed teams.
For Powell and the Blitzboks, though, perhaps the defeat was the wake-up call they needed before the knockout rounds, while they will obviously field the strongest possible starting line-up in the quarter-final. Their lineout skills, though, remain problematic, so they may be forced to take quick taps going forward.
South Africa – Try: Seabelo Senatla.
Australia – Tries: Jesse Parahi, Tom Cusack. Conversion: James Stannard (1).