CAPE TOWN – The biggest shock on the weekend for South African sports fans certainly has to be the Blitzboks’ failure to secure a medal at the Commonwealth Games.
If there was one medal Team South Africa were almost guaranteed, it was one for the Blitzboks... or at least it was an event SA could feel confident about. And with very good reason.
The Springbok Sevens team, who won gold at the last Games - Glasgow 2014 - were one of the favourites on Australia’s Gold Coast, and the fact that they were defending champions of course added to that favourites tag.
The Blitzboks finished at the top of Pool A on Saturday after beating Malaysia, Papua New Guinea and Scotland at the Robina Stadium. And while their first two pool-stage runaway wins looked more like practice runs, Scotland provided a bit more of a challenge for Neil Powell’s team.
But the Blitzboks - who dominated territory and possession and were also more clinical - proved just too strong as they showed good composure, enough composure to score 26 points to overcome a somewhat frustrating and scrappy opening half and secure a 26-5 win.
And as pleased as the Blitzboks and their fans must have been with their efforts in the group stages, we all knew it was never going to be easy against Fiji, who the South Africans met in the semi-finals yesterday.
In that game, the score was deadlocked at 19-all at full time, after the Blitzboks orchestrated a fightback, which saw them come back from being 12-0 down at half time to level the scoreboard’s tipping scale.
But the Sevens powerhouse and Olympic champions broke South African hearts with a try in extra time, crashing the Blitzboks’ hopes of a gold-medal finish (24-19).
Mistakes proved costly for the Blitzboks against the Islanders - a couple of errors saw Fiji capitalise and sprint to a 12-0 lead at the break, and in extra time a stray pass allowed Fiji to score the winning try.
After the defeat to Fiji in the semi-finals, a bronze-medal exit followed after the Blitzboks lost to England (21-14).
It was a match in which the defending 2016/17 World Sevens Series champions just weren’t at their best.
They led 14-0 at the break, but the English scored three tries in the second half to claim the win.
The Blitzboks scored the first try of the match through Branco du Preez, and added a second converted try on the stroke of half-time through Ruhan Nel.
England scored first in the second half, and they went up to 14-all when Philip Burgess crashed over to score.
Tom Mitchell secured the lead for England when he caught the South Africans napping on defence to take the score to 21-14 and close the game out.
In that game, the pure brilliance that the Sevens world has come to expect from the Blitzboks was missing.
Their attack wasn’t as sharp as it normally is, they were nowhere on defence when England scored the last try and, generally, they gave the opposition too many opportunities on Day Two.
Their performance against England - which ultimately cost them a spot on the podium - is one that Powell regards as “very disappointing”.
“It was a very disappointing performance and not what we wanted to achieve for Team South Africa,” said Powell.
“We just did not deliver and were not good enough on the day. Our attack did not function as earlier in the year and we gave both Fiji and England opportunities to score points.”
The Blitzboks mentor also said that they will now set their sights on their two remaining objectives.
“We had three big objectives this year, and the fact that we failed in the first will make us more determined to succeed in the other two.”
“We are still leading the World Rugby Sevens Series with four tournaments to go, so we will put a lot of effort into that. The Rugby World Cup Sevens in July is also another one we targeted to do well, so hard work awaits.”
Blitzboks captain Philip Snyman also said that they’re hurting after conceding a medal against the English.
“We played well on the first day, but on Sunday, when it mattered, we did not,” he said.
“There are no excuses for that; we learned some harsh lessons. The match against Fiji could have gone either way to be honest, but we gave them too much in that first half.”
It was a superb weekend for New Zealand Sevens - who claimed gold in both the men’s and women’s events. Fiji took silver, while England posed with the bronze medal.