The defending series champions surrendered their Dubai Sevens crown in a disappointing manner after their hopes of winning their third successive title in the UAE were shattered by England in their Cup quarter-final match yesterday.
The fact that the South Africans didn’t even manage to win their fifth-place play-off match in the opening leg of the 2018/19 Series will certainly add to the sting.
But if there’s one positive they can take from their efforts, it’s that they thoroughly played their part in a match that was worthy of a Cup final.
After beating Scotland in the Plate play-offs, the Springbok Sevens side met Fiji – who were knocked out of Cup contention by the United States on Day Two – in what turned into an extra-time thriller at the Sevens Stadium with the Fijians scoring a try in sudden death to claim a 24-19 win.
After a hat-trick by Muller du Plessis, the Blitzboks led 19-14 before Waisea Nacuqu scored a breakaway try right under the posts to level the score.
At that moment right there, it was over. Or so we thought.
All Fiji had to do was slot a mere-formality conversion, but debutant Vilimoni Botitu botched it from right in front of the posts to send the game into extra time.
The Blitzboks showed a much-improved defensive effort to the one they had against England and managed to restrict the damage Fiji could cause with their favourable possession stats in extra time.
But the way in which wing Aminiasi Tuimaba chipped the ball over two defenders before chasing it down to score the match-winner was brilliant enough to erase the memory of that botched conversion that put them into the extra-time situation.
Earlier in the day, Neil Powell’s SA team thumped Scotland 29-0 in the Plate play-offs following their Cup exit against England.
Tries by Werner Kok, Zain Davids, Rosko Specman and a brace by Muller du Plessis booked the Blitzboks’ fifth-place play-off fixture against the Olympic champions.
In their first challenge of Day Two, the English starved the BlitzBoks of the ball and did a good enough job of it to bag a 22-5 victory and prevent the back-to-back World Series champions from going for what could have been a record seventh Dubai title.
And there was an unpleasantly familiar taste to that defeat.
It wouldn’t be far-fetched to say that England have become a bit of a headache for the South Africans. Remember the Rio Olympics and the Commonwealth Games?
But while England deserve credit for their work on attack and some clever running lines in the Cup quarter, the Blitzboks were just off. Way off. Their usually-sealed defence lacked composure, and the fact that they only managed their first and only try late in the second half should say enough about their limited chances and possession.
On Day One of the tournament, the Blitzboks beat Zimbabwe 31-0 before topping Samoa 19-12 and going down to Argentina 17-12 in their last match of the day.
Despite that loss, they still managed to top Pool A and set up their meeting with the English.
New Zealand made it a double in the desert as both their men’s and women’s sides claimed the Dubai title. The 12-time World Series winners beat the USA 19-5 in the men's final to claim their first tournament win in Dubai since 2009, while England took third after coming from behind to overcome Australia in the bronze shootout.@WynonaLouw