CAPE TOWN – Springbok Sevens coach Neil Powell says he could feel the “difference” in the week building up to the Canada Sevens, and that difference certainly filtered into the weekend as well.
The Blitzboks won their first tournament title of the 2018/19 World Sevens Series after beating France 21-12 in the Cup final on Monday morning.
Vancouver saw a very different South African team to the one that placed sixth in Dubai, third in Cape Town, fourth in Hamilton, fifth in Sydney and joint seventh in Las Vegas.
They clicked. Everything just clicked at BC Place for this youthful Blitzbok team.
Besides the results (they won all their games at the weekend), what they produced between kick-off and full-time - in every game they played - was also a definite improvement.
Their defence looked like one of their biggest strengths again, while their attack was just as potent, especially against Fiji in the semi-final.
In a weekend not short of upsets (on Day One, Canada beat Fiji, Spain beat New Zealand and France beat Australia), the Blitzboks played with intent. There was a clear and undoubtable want to play. There was execution.
On Saturday, one of the comments that came from the commentary box at BC Place was that the Blitzboks are the “least offloading side” in the Series and that they play “safe”.
You can't argue that. Their play doesn't exactly resemble Fiji's anytime, basketball-like offloads. Their attack isn't centred around pull-a-rabbit-out-of-the-hat extravagance. It's simple, it's effective and they've shown they can use their defence as a weapon as much as they can their attack.
It was that defensive effort combined with their attack that got the job done. But their superb breakdown work in the knock-out games, their consistency throughout the weekend and a few brilliant individual performances - which was only a subplot in a series of impressive team performances - all added to their success, and there were also some exhilarating offloading, or balling, moments.
There was Selvyn Davids' ridiculous show of skill against Wales, which saw him chip the ball over the top and hack it ahead again (it went sideways and traveled over the touchline) before - in fashion that would make a pro footballer proud - edging it back into the field of play and into Philip Snyman's grasp with his left boot. The only thing that made that moment even better was that it led to a try.
Then there was JC Pretorius' beaut of a chicken-wing flick against Argentina to put Siviwe Soyizwapi away for a try (it was only one of his series of seriously impressive contributions, which saw him and Davids making the Dream Team).
So yeah, the Blitzboks' performances in Vancouver had it all. And those performances deserved to secure them their first Canada title after making it into the finals of the first two tournaments in the North American country in 2016 and 2017.
The Blitzboks also moved back into fourth spot on the standings after dropping down to fifth spot in Las Vegas.
It was the first tournament win for the Blitzboks since June last year, when they clinched the Paris Sevens and subsequently the World Series.
Powell was very happy with the outcome of the weekend.
“One could feel the team was getting together and bonding,” he said. “It was never about the potential of the players, rather the ability to play for and with each other. All week I could feel the difference.”
“I felt that the squad needed some time to combine and mould as a team and it happened this weekend. The players trusted our system and each other. It is amazing how 13 players, all from different cultures and backgrounds, can combine under one flag and for one jersey.”
Powell was equally pleased with the performances on the field.
“It was a tournament where we really showed good defensive discipline, but our attack was equally impressive, especially against Argentina and Fiji in the play-offs.”
In the final, the French scored first when Pierre Lakafia crashed over for a 5-0 lead. Impi Visser responded for the Blitzboks and Davids added the conversion to go 7-5 up.
In the 10th minute, Davids finished off a long run by scoring in the corner. He converted from a tough angle to extend their lead to 14-5.
Werner Kok also added his name to the scoresheet with a strong run down the line, before France came back with a converted try of their own with three minutes to go. South Africa's defence was enough to hold out for a historic win, though.
Earlier in the day, South Africa outplayed Fiji 31-12 in the Cup semi-finals and defeated Argentina 33-12 in their Cup quarter-final.
On Day One, the Blitzboks schooled Chile 43-0 before beating Wales 19-10 to qualify for the quarter-finals with a game to spare.
South Africa started the tournament fifth on the log, a point behind England in fourth. This win pushed them nine points clear of England again and back into fourth and Olympic qualification criteria.
The next World Sevens Series stop is in Hong Kong on April 5.
1 USA 113
2 New Zealand 106
3 Fiji 101
4 South Africa 89
5 England 8